ecent video evidence of an active slave market in the north African country of Libya has focused international attention on what has, until now, been a largely unpublicized human rights tragedy, says a Seventh-day Adventist Church spokesperson.
“What this video reveals is the shocking and ruthless exploitation of vulnerable human beings; refugees who are desperately seeking an escape from poverty and violence,” says Nelu Burcea, who is the Adventist Church’s liaison to the United Nation and an associate director of its Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) department. “Our church joins those who are calling for concerted international action to end this immense human rights disaster in North Africa.”
According to Burcea, the slave trade in Libya represents just one part of a much larger picture of abuse of African refugees. Libya’s geographical position, just across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy, has made it a major transit point for African refugees seeking to enter Europe. The United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that some 450,000 people have attempted the dangerous sea journey from Libya to Europe during the past three years.
However, with increasing European efforts to end human smuggling and to turn back refugee boats, a growing number of refugees find themselves trapped in Libya’s overflowing detention centers and makeshift refugee camps. Reports from these facilities speak of deteriorating conditions, poor organization, and lawlessness. As the situation worsens, various local militia and tribal groups have moved to exploit those who are trapped in Libya, with no means to either continue on to Europe as refugees, or to return to their home country.
Last week, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting and vowed to step up its efforts to end the abuse of refugees in Libya. UN Secretary General António Guterres said that this trade in human beings has “no place in the 21st century.”
Rick McEdward, president of the church’s Middle East and North Africa Union Mission (MENA), says Libya’s recent history has been difficult, with tremendous loss of life due to a prolonged civil crisis. He calls the treatment of refugees documented in the video a “horrific violation of basic human rights.”
“We must not allow broken human systems to tear people down and treat them as commodities for trade,” says McEdward. “As a church, we add our voice to encourage all political, commercial, and religious leaders to unite in word and deed to protect the God-given dignity of individuals. We must stand together to condemn the abusive practice of slavery and all other forms of human trafficking.”
Ganoune Diop, director of PARL for the Adventist world church, says that the global church is committed to defending the right of every person to be treated with dignity and respect. “As Adventists, we believe that every human being bears the sacred mark of their Creator and is imbued with infinite worth, and we will therefore continue to speak out at the highest levels against the abuse of refugees and migrants.”
The PARL department of the Adventist Church will take up this issue at the United Nations on January 22 next year when it co-sponsors the Fourth Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-based Organizations in International Affairs. The theme of this one-day event, which will be held in the United Nations Secretariat in New York, will be “Perspectives on Migration: Displacement and Marginalization, Inclusion and Justice.” The Adventist Church is one of four main organizers of this series of symposiums, which bring together other nongovernmental organizations, UN officials, and religious leaders to explore ways that faith-based groups can work alongside international entities to foster a more peaceful and secure world.