At Slave Auctions, Libya Smugglers Are Selling Off Migrants for as Little as $400

Illegal migrants who were rescued by the Libyan coast guard at sea arrive at a migration detention and shelter facility in Tripoli’s eastern suburb of Tajoura, Libya, on August 6. Migrants trying to reach Europe via North Africa are being sold at modern-day slave auctions by smugglers in Libya for as little as $400. Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty

Migrants trying to reach Europe via North Africa are being sold at modern-day slave auctions by smugglers in Libya for as little as $400, a new investigation has revealed.

Along the Libyan coast, smugglers have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars putting migrants on the perilous journey to Europe on rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea. Now they are being sold off to buyers for manual labor, according to CNN.

Desperate migrants make their way through sub-Saharan Africa—either west or east—to Libya, a near-failed state wracked by years of civil war and lawlessness, to pay substantial sums to traffickers in hope of a new life on European shores.

According to the investigation, cell phone footage showed African men being sold, offered as one of the "big, strong boys for farm work."

In the Libyan capital of Tripoli, an auction was witnessed for a man whose price rose from 500 dollars to $650. Some were sold for just $400, less than half the median weekly earnings of an American worker.

"Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big, strong man, he'll dig," an auctioneer said. "What am I bid, what am I bid?"

This situation has arisen because of the European and Libyan crackdown on smuggler vessels—meaning that those who arrive in Libya have no boats on which to leave, and the smugglers have nowhere to send the migrants.

Instead, the traffickers are attempting make money from migrants' desperation.

Libyan authorities in the city say they have knowledge of the smuggling operations in the country, but not slave auctions. "They fill a boat with 100 people, those people may or may not make it," First Lieutenant Naser Hazam of the Libyan government's Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency told CNN.

"[The smuggler] does not care as long as he gets the money, and the migrant may get to Europe or die at sea."

Previous investigations by Newsweek have shown that smugglers, particularly in the coastal town of Zuwara, drew in hundreds of migrants from across Africa, from Egypt, Sudan, and Niger, using social media.

In 2015, the smugglers brazenly used Facebook accounts and charts of the range of prices for their services.

For instance, a trip from Sudan to Libya and on to Italy would cost two migrants, a mother and her daughter, around $3,500: $1,500 for the crossing and the rest for the transport from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. Social media companies have clamped down on the recruiting, and the business now operates more on word of mouth.

In 2016, there were at least 5,079 fatalities or missing cases of people who tried to make the Mediterranean crossings to Europe.