In a scene reminiscent of the slave trade era, a hidden camera captured the sale of migrants in Libya. “Big strong boys for farm work!” one man exclaimed, while parading outwardly robust men. “700,” another voice echoed, upping his auction bid from 400. The disturbing video that aired on CNN last week, and went viral on social media platforms, is exposing the inhumane practice of human trafficking that has been going on for the last couple of years in Libya, unbeknownst to many of us.
The migrants caught on tape, had attempted the dangerous – and often deadly- journey through the Sahara, hoping to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe. Alas, only to be detained, extorted and sold into slavery, never reaching their intended destination.
The plight of refugees and migrants around the world, from Rohingyas in South East Asia, to Sudanese and Burundians in East Africa, or Syrians and Yemenis, is a global crisis that concerns us all and can no longer be overlooked.
Unfortunately, many of the wealthy countries have chosen to close their borders, arguing that refugees and migrants posed a serious threat to their economy and security.
Ironically, conflict or insecurity, financial or otherwise, is the reason these migrants are running away from their homes and embarking on these daredevil expeditions.
No one flees their home, leaving behind family and friends, because they want to. No person trades their world for the unknown on an impulse. And certainly, no mother chooses to navigate turbulent sea waters, kids in tow, except for lack of better options.
Yet, in a sick twist of fate, these vulnerable refugees and migrants become easy targets for human traffickers along the road, who then subject them to mental, physical, financial and sexual abuse akin to what the CNN video and various reports on immigration issues have uncovered.
The “lucky” few that reach their destination often end up in detention facilities, as is the case of migrants at offshore Australian detention centers, located on islands like Nauru or Manu.
Under current Australia’s immigration policy, no refugee or asylum seeker who arrives by boat can be let into the country, however dire and genuine their circumstances might be.
The offshore migrants’ ordeal was brought to light earlier this year when The Washington Post released transcripts of a phone call between President Trump and the Australian Prime Minister in which President Trump was threatening to get out of a “bad deal” Australia had brokered with the Obama Administration to relocate some of its unwanted immigrants to America. The uproar against President Trump was swift.
Similarly, Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, has revealed Israel’s intention to resettle some of its Eritrean and Sudanese immigrants to third countries, amongst which Rwanda.
Israel is allegedly paying airfare and giving $3,500 to every migrant who leaves Israel voluntarily, and disbursing $5,000 to the Rwandan government for every immigrant it accommodates. For those choosing not to leave Canaan, prison awaits. Allegedly.
Again, uproar ensued. Except, whereas Trump was criticized for denying entry to Australia’s personas non-grata, Rwanda is being vilified for granting entry to Israel’s unwanted immigrants. To accept the $5,000 payment, critics say, is to engage in human trafficking.
Yet, if the outraged, in their righteous anger, would appreciate that Rwanda is not the USA, in wealth or land, but a poor country the size of one of America’s smallest states and still relies partly on foreign aid for its budget, then, hopefully, the $5,000, in cash or other form of assistance, would pale in comparison to the cost incurred by society to provide food, housing, health insurance, education, employment training, etc. for the relocated migrants.
Besides, what viable alternatives those opposing this arrangement would rather Rwanda pursue? Should Rwanda have closed its borders to refugees in their time of need? Should the government turn down any financial support for the migrants and choose, instead, to provide less than acceptable hospitality to appease the upset yet contented? Neither option is honorable. And both would have caused even more outrage.
On the issue regarding the trade of migrants, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Moussa Mahamat, has denounced the treatment of African migrants in Libya, and called on all member states of the AU, the private sector and citizens of Africa to make financial contributions to help alleviate the suffering of these migrants and facilitate the evacuation of those who wish to leave.
The chairman also announced that Rwanda had offered to enslaved migrants, transportation out of Libya, as well as sanctuary, should they wish to relocate to Rwanda.
C’est tout à l’honneur du President Kagame, who, just this past July, reiterated to thousands of Africans convening in Kigali for a summit that Africa’s children “did not belong at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.”
In a world that is increasingly intolerant and prejudiced, in times when blatant xenophobic sentiments are rampant and nationalistic uprisings taunted as patriotism, countries with open border policies shouldn’t elicit fury or resentment, but rather support and more importantly emulation.