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15 February 2018

Countering modern slavery in Libya

Countering modern slavery in Libya

Last week, members of the advocacy team and the One People Commission met with Alistair Burt, minister for the Middle East, along with government officials at the Department for International Development (DfID) to discuss modern slavery in Libya. 

You may remember the shocking video last year, which showed slave auctions of black African migrants taking place in Libya. The video led to protests at Libyan embassies and the recall of ambassadors from the country. An e-petition to debate the issue in parliament gathered a quarter of a million signatures in three weeks, and the debate took place in December. 

Rev Yemi Adedeji, director of the One People Commission, said: “The scandal of modern slavery in Libya is particularly agonizing for Christians in West African churches. Many in our churches will know a friend or family member who is on the migrant route, or even someone caught in this hideous trade of human beings in Libya’s slave markets. The Government must do all it can to bring this slave trade to an end.’ 

Modern slavery is a serious and global problem. However, the risks are much greater in unstable or failed states – states like Libya which has collapsed after the civil war that began in 2011. The slave auctions there are organised by criminal gangs and human traffickers – similar to the gangs who offer to smuggle people into Europe. 

It is impossible to estimate how many are currently enslaved.  However, it is estimated that there are around 700,000 migrants currently in Libya. In 2017, 150,982 people arrived in Europe from across the Mediterranean, while around 2,839 died during the crossing. 

When we met with DfID we discussed how aid agencies and others on the ground can connect with churches in helping those caught up in the slave trade. In particular, churches in countries of origin can assist in providing information about the dangers ahead – particularly through the testimonies of those who have survived slavery. In addition, churches can help support those who have been repatriated to their countries of origin after being rescued from Libya. 

Officials outlined what the Government is doing now, including a £75 million program of aid directed at migrants heading to Libya or in their countries of origin. This program assists in repatriation for those who want to return, gives information about the dangers on the migrant routes, offers alternatives to travelling through Libya at the mercy of traffickers, and support reintegration in countries of origin for those returning (especially from Libya). 

Historically, Britain has a mixed record when it comes to slavery – being an active participant in the trade before William Wilberforce and other evangelical Christian members of the Clapham Sect campaigned to see it abolished. Today, however we are a major participant in the fight against modern slavery, and we have great resources with which to act. It is important for us to use our influence in the interests of human rights globally – particularly as we look forward to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December this year. 

The UK also currently spends 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas development assistance. This commitment is often subject to scrutiny, particularly in the light of recent allegations against aid agencies such as Oxfam. Proper accountability for these organisations in their work overseas is absolutely vital, but when we discuss aid in general we should remember – and pray for – places away from the media glare when aid spending and charities are doing really important work, tackling modern slavery and many other issues. 

The travesty of modern slavery in Libya will not be solved overnight. It will mean targeted work against traffickers now, and building stability in Libya long-term. In contrast, media attention on a key issue dissipates in a matter of days or weeks. So if you’re concerned about this issue, please do write to your MP and get them to keep asking what progress has been made. Read more about writing to your MP here

Last but not least, do continue to pray for all those affected by modern slavery, in Libya and around the world. Here is a prayer on modern slavery written by the Church of England’s Clewer Initiative, based on Psalm 147: 

Loving Father, 
who gathers the outcast,
heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds;
bring liberty and freedom to all
      whose lives are entangled in slavery and trafficking in our world today.
Lift up the down trodden and tread wickedness into the dust:
we make our prayer through Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in perfect freedom,
one God, now and forever.