CAIRO — A CNN report about the sale of African migrants as slaves in the North African nation of Libya has incited outrage in recent days, prompting a protest in central Paris, condemnation by the African Union and an official investigation.
Hundreds of protesters, mostly young black people, demonstrated in front of the Libyan Embassy in central Paris on Saturday — with some carrying a sign that said, “Put an end to the slavery and concentration camps in Libya,” and chanting, “Free our brothers!” — three days after CNN aired footage of migrants being auctioned off in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
“We have to mobilize — we can’t let this kind of thing happen,” one of the protesters told the television station France 24. “Did we really need to see such shocking pictures before taking a stand? I don’t think so.”
French police officers fired tear gas to disperse the rally, which had turned violent.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union Commission and the foreign minister of Chad, issued a statement after the rally, calling the auctions “despicable.” He urged the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to assist the Libyan authorities with the investigation that they opened in response to CNN’s report.
The Guardian reported in April that West African migrants were being sold in modern-day slave markets in Libya, based on information from the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency. And Reuters reported on the issue in May.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that there are 700,000 to one million migrants in Libya, and more than 2,000 have died at sea this year.
Most of the migrants in Libya are fleeing armed conflict, persecution or severe economic hardship in sub-Saharan Africa. Their journey usually begins with a deadly trek through vast deserts to Libya and then involves either braving the Mediterranean Sea on rickety boats headed to Europe or struggling to survive in one of the overcrowded detention centers run by smugglers on the Libyan coastline.
Forced labor, sexual abuse and torture are widespread in these camps, according to the United Nations.
Since the Arab Spring uprising of 2011 ended the brutal rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s coast has became a hub for human trafficking and smuggling. That has fueled the illegal migration crisis that Europe has been scrambling to contain since 2014.
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