At least 40 people have been detained during a swoop on human trafficking across West Africa, after a video surfaced showing refugees apparently being sold at auction in Libya.
In a statement on Thursday, Interpol said those arrested face prosecution for offences including human trafficking, forced labor and child exploitation.
“They are accused of forcing victims to engage in activities ranging from begging to prostitution, with little to no regard for working conditions or human life,” the statement read.
Interpol also noted that some 500 people, including 236 minors, had been rescued in simultaneous operations across Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.
“The results of this operation underline the challenge faced by law enforcement and all stakeholders in addressing human trafficking in the Sahel region,” the operation’s coordinator Innocentia Apovo said.
The Interpol-led action comes amid global outcry sparked by footage of Africans being sold as slaves in Libya. CNN last week aired footage of a live auction in Libya where black men were being sold for as little as $400 to North African buyers as farmhands.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has recently said that the reported auctions of African refugees in Libya as slaves amount to “crimes against humanity.”
Libya, gripped by chaos and lawlessness since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, was the main embarkation point for mostly African refugees seeking to head to Europe until recently.
However, the flow across the central Mediterranean subsided when the European Union reached an agreement with local militia to provide them with funds and training on relocation of refugees.
In October, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned that thousands of Libyan refugees were living in dire conditions in a hub to the west of the capital Tripoli, saying they could be exposed to abuse on a shocking scale.