Africans trying to migrate to Europe through Libya are being sold in “slave markets” in the country in garages, car parks and public squares, the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration reported on Tuesday.

“The situation is dire,” said IOM Director of Operation and Emergencies Mohammed Abdiker, who visited Tripoli in Libya recently. “[Libya] is a vale of tears for many migrants. Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

An IOM staffer in Niger said that some migrants – mostly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians – are “forced to work for the kidnappers/slave traders as guards in the ransom houses or in the ‘market’ itself”. Victims include migrants from Senegal and other sub-Saharan African countries, as well.

The agency’s chief of mission for Libya, Othman Belbeisi, told the BBC that the migrants are “sold to get at least a minimum benefit” because they do not have ransom money to pay their kidnappers, and neither do their families. “The price is definitely different depending on your qualifications, for example if you can do painting or tiles or some specialised work then the price gets higher,” Belbeisi said.

Source: UN International Organisation for Migration

The UN body gained access to a number of detention centres in recent months, Abdiker said, adding that the migrants who fall get trapped face “systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder”. “Last year, we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.” So far this year, the Libyan Coast Guard and others found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores and rescued thousands more, he said.

According to IOM’s spokesperson from Geneva, Leonard Doyle, the organisation is trying to warn people across the continent about the dangers they face trying to reach Europe via Libya. “We are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio,” he said.