top of page

Migrant Slavery and Human Trafficking in Africa

Writer: Sarah Kapesa

Editor: Adelyne Koe

Graphic Designer: Pat Sevikul

TW: Violence, abuse, rape

Human trafficking refers to “a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion”. The practice targets vulnerable individuals and forces them to commit sexual acts for the monetary gain of their captors. The practice continues to exist globally, with many of the victims coming from parts of the Global South, such as Latin America, Southern Asia, and Africa.

In recent years, countless human rights groups and news networks have raised alarms at the spike of human trafficking cases occurring to migrants, mainly those who come from Western and Central Africa. Many of the victims of this crime come from struggling, conflict-inflicted nations such as the DRC, Burundi, and Ethiopia. The trafficking victims are sent to markets to be sold in countries like Malawi, Nigeria, and most notoriously Libya.

Many individuals who run these trafficking rings often target vulnerable people who experience extreme poverty, violence, lack of education, war, and lack of jobs. Traffickers often attempt to form relationships with their targets; some take on the role of a “madame” who promises them a well-paying job in Europe, sometimes under the illusion of escaping from poverty so that they can send money back home later on, so long as they obey their instructions. However, in reality, these victims are instead forced to do sex work, or become slaves to another “madame” living in Europe. Other exploiters use the promise of a better, glamorized life to entice these migrants into binding and oppressive contracts.

By targeting the vulnerable, they are able to get away with much more, since many of these cases do not become “high profile” cases. Moreover, these kidnappers exploit the beliefs of some African migrants on black magic and make them sign “oaths” with the condition that if they ever break them, their family will be targeted, cursed, or no longer be able to contact them. This creates a cycle of fear, deception, and exploitation. For instance, a large number of these current madames and exploiters were once victims of this cycle who managed to climb to the top of operations.

While interviewing male trafficking victims, the U.N noted that the majority of trafficked men were forced into hard labor, taking on the role of feeding livestock, while simultaneously being treated like animals. On the other hand, female trafficking victims are used for prostitution, treated as baby-making factories, or become the brides and sexual partners of the traffickers. They are sold in markets alongside other trafficked persons for an average price of US$200. Moreover, many practices drew inspiration from colonial slavery and the mistreatment and abuse of black individuals during the transatlantic slave trade. This practice relies on the idea that migrants are not humans but rather livestock, and a means to make money. As such, some of these victims are branded by their captors. Sunday Iabarot, a survivor of Libyan slavery, was scarred by his abusers and remains with a permanent “3” etched on his face.

The trafficking of African migrants introduces us to a dangerous precedent as we enter an era of more modern slavery. The existence of capitalism and other similar structures facilitates the financial exploitation of dreams of a better life for African migrants, and according to the U.N’s International Labor Organizations, modern slavery has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Aboubakar Soumahoro, an Ivorian who came to Italy 17 years ago, says it best: “The rope of desperation has replaced their iron chains. Now Africans are sending themselves to Europe and becoming slaves in the process”.

Though there have been spikes in reporting this issue, mainly in 2016, it seems that the topic of African migrants being sold into horrific exploitation has slid under the global news radar. It is important to never forget the numerous human rights crises happening on a global scale. As an African and a member of the DRC, where many of these trafficking victims were born, I cannot help but feel intense anger towards this situation. I stand with the victims and the people who are still being trafficked within the African continent. I can only hope that their captors are caught and that these people who were only trying to get a better life attain all the amazing things they dreamed of. As a community and a united world, we must ensure that no voices remain unseen, unheard, and regarded as unimportant.




Submit an article!

Share your story, share your voice
bottom of page