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What is the cause of Libya’s slave trade?

Amrit Singh

 // Nov 29, 2017

As the world reacts to the abject horror of Libya's thriving slave trade, the question becomes: Why is this happening? After CNN published a watershed report earlier this month, prompted by footage of a man being sold into slavery for $400 at a modern-day slave auction, theories and fingers are pointing in many directions.

Libya's geographical orientation makes it a primary hub for refugees and migrants fleeing hostile environments in their home countries and seeking asylum in Europe. Often, these countries — including Nigeria, Sudan, Senegal, amongst many others — are roiling under leadership which is exploiting power imbalances created by the Western world's onerous and imperialistic economic exploitation dating back to British colonialism and beyond, to give you a sense of how deep this goes. But in any event, the end result is a young population suffering such extreme hardship that their only hope is to flee, with no set plan other than to hopefully wash up on European shores.

Unfortunately, many never make it. Europe's border control is getting tighter and tighter, and with somewhere between 700,000 and one million migrants in Libya, there is a massive accumulation of desperate, culturally disparate, and displaced young men without roots who are easily disappeared, and thereby ripe for the sort of beating and kidnapping that is the lifeblood of the human trafficking nightmare.

This new attention on the Libyan slave trade has elicited outcry around the world, and demands that the Libyan government do more to combat this cancer in their midst. These complaints are falling upon disempowered ears, however: Since the Obama administration's 2011 military intervention in Libya, which led to the dictator Muammar-al Gadaffi's death, Libya has existed in the sort of power vacuum which allows cancers like this to exists and thrive.

Of course, this refugee crisis has gripped the global political discourse: During the 2016 presidential election refugees were heavily debated. What to do with these poor souls who can no longer exist under their oppressive regimes? While governments in developed countries ponder, the refugees, with nothing to lose, hurl themselves into action, intent on entering countries with less tyrannical leaders. The appearance of these refugees has been felt most strongly in Europe, where the influx has unsettled "nativists," leading to radicalized political factions across the continent, and to a rise in far-right nationalism across the world. This often takes the form of rhetoric which claims refugees compete with natural-born citizens for jobs and/or commit crimes and easily turn to terrorism.

We see these fears in the U.S., but in Europe they are galvanizing actual structural governmental changes. The most extreme and famous example of this is the so-called "Brexit" vote, via which Great Britain "exited" (i.e. Brexited) the European Union in disagreement with the E.U. policy which required that member countries admit a set number of refugees per year, regardless of the country's feelings to the contrary.

And so the borders get tighter, and the channels for these refugees to legitimately emigrate get narrower, and the situation becomes more fraught, tense, and combustible.

While President Trump has yet to weigh in on these reports, his tireless Twitter tirade on CNN for being "FAKE NEWS" is being seized upon by Libyan media outlet Libya 218 to dispute the validity of these reports, in eager attempts to defend their country. In quoting Trump's most recent CNN-bashing Tweets from this past weekend, a Libya 218 broadcaster said "it was striking that the president's tirade came only days after the CNN report" and that "Here the possibility arises that the channel has published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective." [via The Guardian] In other words, Libyan interests are quoting our President to suggest the CNN report is fake.

Now we're seeing the global implication of the President's campaign to undermine faith in the integrity of the United States' intelligence and media communities. And we're also seeing just how complicated it can be to get to the bottom of something that is so obviously and indefensibly awful.

So what do we do?

Yes the United Nations is considering imposing sanctions. And yes, you can donate to the International Organization for Migration, which is the leading and UN-recognized institution for examining and safe-guarding the "humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all."

But as this all illustrates, remember that the root causes for all of this goes so deep, and the means to treat it require such clear communication, that no problem is ever truly on someone else's shores. They begin here. We are all interconnected. And you better be sure that the people who are calling the shots on your behalf are doing so with your best interests -- which are fundamentally synonymous with global best interests -- in mind. Slavery is unconscionable. And wasted votes are aiding and abetting.

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