African immigrants. Photo credit: Martin Bekerman.

African migrants saved from Libyan Slave Trade return with HIV, PTSD

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Nigerian officials discover that a number of African migrants sent back from Libya have tested positive for HIV, prompting a massive recall of returnees.

The exact number of HIV positive deportees have not been disclosed in the case of Nigerians ousted from Libya, but health officials express concern that those returning back to their villages and towns will spread the disease.

In Benin City, Flora Oyakhilome, Executive Officer for the Edo State Agency for the Control of AIDS, said that more HIV screenings have been set up to hopefully thwart the continued diffusion of any infection.

Officials also report that deportees showed signs of mental health issues; namely post traumatic stress disorder. As well, those who returned provided numerous accounts of abuses and human rights violations.

Photo credit: Sergey Pesterev

Deportees are Sub-Saharan Africans sent back after reports revealed that Libya established open air slave markets selling African migrants passing through North Africa to immigrate to Europe.

Nigeria is one of a number of African countries whose citizens migrate to Europe as undocumented people.

About 16 Sub-Saharan countries have citizens who travel through Libya. Migrants trek from as far southeast, as Kenya, and as far west, as Senegal, but still make the dangerous journey that has claimed an unknown amount of lives.

For some time, Libya has served as a main channel for Africans to migrate to Europe, in what they see as a move towards better opportunities. In the last year two years, more than 1.5 million people from the Middle East and Africa entered the continent that lies above North Africa.

The journey can be costly. Sub-Saharans often pay smugglers to transport them via a range of dangerous ways. Many hopeful immigrants’ bodies line the multiple pathways across the desert, through North Africa, in hopes that they sail to Europe by way of the Mediterranean Sea.

Dangerous road to better opportunity

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Smugglers use some of the most dangerous routes to Europe, sailing the Central Mediterranean in unsafe boats. Over the years, European Coast Guards have responded to capsized boats or ships in distress. However, the hostilities are still high against refugees attempting to resettle. In some reports, Italian Coast Guards have ignored sinking ships, thus allowing people to drown.

In November, 26 bodies of Nigerian teens and girls were found in the Mediterranean Sea, with initial assessments that they were unwilling participants in sex trafficking. The incident heightened the awareness of the plight of refugees who resort to high-risk travel in order to migrate to a better life.

Libyan slave trade

There are a number of Africans who do not make it to Europe. Some stay in North Africa or the MiddleEast. Now, there are concerns that most remain in the region against their will, or suffer under treacherous conditions.

When the international community discovered Libyan slave markets, Sub-Saharan African leaders voiced outrage.  They agreed to work with European officials to “accelerate exponentially” to remove migrants. Even, France called for military action. Still, questions emerged as to how this could happen in Libya when the United States’ has an African command center (AFRICOM).

Additionally, cases of abuse toward Africans in the Middle-East are emerging more. In 2016, an Ugandan  parliamentary report documented the deaths of 48 Ugandan migrant workers – 34 by suicide – since January 2017. Migrant workers returned to their home country with details of gross mistreatment by employers including rape, torture and long hours of grueling labor.

To date, Libyan officials have not publicly acknowledged a slave trade, yet thousands of African migrants who left the area report a chattel system of bondage that includes forced labor and sex work.

The consequences of the health issues are yet to be understood.

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