The United Nations has begun actively addressing the abuse of refugees along Central Mediterranean routes from Africa to Europe, including the treatment of refugees as slaves in Libya.
The chiefs of two UN agencies briefed the Security Council on Tuesday on specific work that had begun to address the issue.
The international body stepped up action against the abuse of refugees after a report revealed how refugees were being sold as slaves at an auction in Libya.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi informed the Security Council about the grave abuses perpetrated against asylum seekers and suggested reception and protection mechanisms to stop the rights violations.
“The grave abuses perpetrated against migrants and refugees along the Central Mediterranean routes can no longer be ignored,” Grandi said. “Compelled to flee, but without legal pathways to safety, refugees are exposed to appalling harm, together with migrants, including torture, rape, sexual exploitation, slavery and other forms of forced labour.”
He said there was a need for “a comprehensive approach encompassing countries of origin, transit, and destination.”
Grandi said his agency was stepping up its work but was grappling with “dramatic” funding gaps, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
William Lacy Swing, the director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also told the Security Council that slave trade was an enormous problem that could nevertheless be stopped.
Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres instructed relevant UN authorities to investigate the matter and take measures against it.
“Slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity,” Guterres said.
Guterres said he had advised the authorities to act urgently.
On Thursday, the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, said it had arrested more than 40 people involved in enslaving refugees.
Interpol said 500 people, including 236 minors, had been rescued in simultaneous operations across Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal.
France calls for targeted sanctions on traffickers in Libya
At the Tuesday Security Council meeting, French Ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre suggested that sanctions be used to help stop human trafficking in Libya.
He urged the Council members to consider imposing targeted sanctions on the human traffickers operating in the North African country.
During the meeting, Delattre requested that footage of a slave auction broadcast earlier this month by the CNN be shown. In the video, slaves are seen being sold to Libyan buyers as farmhands for $400 each. Several members of the 15-member Security Council expressed horror viewing it.
Libya plunged into chaos after the overthrow and killing of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.