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House of Commons Hansard

Enslavement of Black Africans (Libya)

18 December 2017
Volume 633

  • I beg to move,

    That this House has considered e-petition 205476 relating to the enslavement of black Africans in Libya.

    It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I would like to read the petition into the record. It reads:

    “Put pressure on Libya to take action to stop enslavement of Black Africans.

    CNN has released video footage of black Africans being sold into slavery in Libya. I am asking the UK government to put pressure on the Libyan government to take immediate action to stop these criminals from selling more people, to set current prisoners free, arrest the criminals and end this.”

    I am delighted to welcome the petitioner, Constance Mbassi Manga, who has done a fantastic job in raising this issue and getting so many signatures in such a short space of time. I am delighted that she is able to join us today.

    As of this morning, 265,272 people had signed the petition within only about three weeks of it going live, which is a real testament to people’s strength of feeling. It is interesting: the likes of Cara Delevingne, Naomi Campbell and Rihanna, and a whole load of rappers who are far too cool for me to even know who they are, have taken up this issue, put it on social media and shared it. All of that, including the petition system, is really part—not the end—of a campaign to make people aware of the horrific things going on in another part of the world that they might otherwise not have been aware of at all. Hopefully, as well as raising awareness, we can start to effect change.

    It was international Human Rights Day a week last Sunday. A number of us were out and about, raising issues; I was talking about the situation that the Rohingya Muslim community face in Burma, the Tamils, the Ahmadiyya Muslims and a number of other issues that are close to me and to my constituents, given the various diaspora groups in my constituency. Only a week later, we are talking about something that we thought had long since passed. When the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, she brought in the Modern Slavery Act 2015—a fantastic achievement—which recognised that slavery still existed in hidden pockets of this country. However, this is not hidden; it is absolutely brazen and out-and-out across parts of Libya and its migrant routes. It has to stop.

    I was chatting to the Minister a little while ago—I do not know if he will remember this—and we shared the view that when people believe that another group of people are subhuman, there is no depth to which they will not stoop in their treatment of them; they are treated worse than animals. People started being aware of this situation when the International Organisation for Migration started to hear stories and went to document people’s experiences, write reports and share what those voices were saying. However, it was only when CNN covered the issue a few weeks ago that it really came to the public’s wider awareness.

    I want to read one piece of documented evidence from the IOM to illustrate what is happening. One of the operations officers in Niger reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant. He referred to him as SC, to protect his identity. SC was returning to his home after being held captive for months.

    “According to SC’s testimony, while he was trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay 200,000 CFA—about $320—to continue north towards Libya. A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck.

    The journey—over two days of travelling—through the desert was relatively smooth for this group. IOM has often heard from other migrants on this route who report seeing the remains of others abandoned by their drivers—and of trucks ransacked by bandits who siphon away their fuel.

    SC’s fate was different. When his pick-up reached Sabha in south-western Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. ‘Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them’”,

    the IOM reported.

  • My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He mentioned Nigeria; when I visited it as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy, I had a discussion about this problem. We all agreed that if we did not help to get sub-Saharan Africa right, the catastrophe waiting to happen in Europe would be colossal, as more and more Nigerians put themselves in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers on the way to Libya and the Mediterranean coast. Does he agree that that is a realistic view of the situation?

  • I understand my hon. Friend’s expertise and knowledge of the area and totally agree with him. There is a real risk. We can tackle the atrocities of the slave trade in Libya, and Libya’s power vacuum, but ultimately the biggest threat to that part of the world and many others is migration—and not necessarily just migration through conflict. Economic reasons, climate reasons and any number of other reasons are moving such a mass of people, which causes other situations.

  • On the power vacuum in Libya, the UK Government continue to support the Government of national accord, yet we hear that these things are becoming very much worse. Would it not be right for the UK to consider whether the that Government of national accord are perhaps not the answer?

  • I am grateful for the intervention. I will be interested to hear from the Minister on we can do to work towards democratic elections, and to create a mainstream Government in Libya, which clearly has not had one for many years. It is only by having a mainstream, democratically elected Government that we will be able to have a long-term view, whichever party makes up that Government. It will not necessarily be for us to pick a horse, run the country or tell it what to do, but we can help support it. We can work with the African Union and a local offering to help Libya create its own destiny and future, which hopefully will be much safer and a lot more secure.

    Let me get back to SC. He was bought, and then brought to his first prison. The IOM said it was

    “a private home where more than 100 migrants were held as hostages. He said the kidnappers made the migrants call their families back home, and often suffered beatings while on the phone so that their family members could hear them being tortured. In order to be released from this first house, SC was asked to pay…about $480…which he couldn’t raise. He was then ‘bought’ by another Libyan, who brought him to a bigger house—where a new price was set for his release…about $970…to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram to someone called ‘Alhadji Balde’, said to be in Ghana.

    SC managed to get some money from his family via mobile phone and then agreed to work as an interpreter for the kidnappers, to avoid further beatings. He described dreadful sanitary conditions, and food offered only once per day. Some migrants who couldn’t pay were reportedly killed, or left to starve to death.

    SC told IOM that when somebody died or was released, kidnappers returned to the market to ‘buy’ more migrants to replace them. Women, too, were ‘bought’ by private individuals—Libyans, according to this witness—and brought to homes where they were forced to be sex slaves.”

    It was Nima Elbagir and CNN’s groundbreaking report, and those pictures, that really brought the situation home to so many people in the west. CNN heard from its contact that two auctions were going on at the same time. Some people in the Libyan Government would say that those things happen only sporadically, but on this occasion there were two at the same time, and the one that was filmed was an overflow auction, because there were so many people to be sold. There was also a big buyer in town wanting to buy people—that is what I said: “buy people”—as commodities or merchandise, to work on farms. It is atrocious, and while I am speaking I am reflecting on the words I use. That episode brought the matter home. Officers from the International Organisation for Migration said:

    “What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers 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.”

    The total population of migrants in Libya, based on estimates provided by embassies, is about 750,000, mainly coming from Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Syria and Mali. Previously, under the Gaddafi regime, there were about 1.1 million; I think that that was the estimate. They were predominantly there as cheap labour. Of the 750,000 who are there now, about 450,000 at least do not see Libya as their final destination. They see it as being on a migration route to Europe and beyond. Those are the people in connection houses, who have been trafficked. They are the people who are beaten and whipped with wires—hundreds of thousands of people. They experience extreme insecurity in Libya, including arbitrary arrest by non-state actors, detention for indefinite periods of time, bonded labour, harassment and general exploitation.

    There were other pictures on CNN of not the auction but the detention centres. That aspect of the matter is of huge concern, and I want to ask the Minister for his views. The people held there share small mattresses, and are effectively in a cage. That brings me back to what I said when I began my speech: they are treated worse than animals. How can we have reached a situation where that is anywhere close to the case?

    The 450,000 people who come through Libya, seeing it as part of their migration route, go to the north coast, to a crossing point, pay another trafficker to get them into a boat, and go predominantly to Italy—to Lampedusa, a small island that simply cannot cope. I went, as a member of the Council of Europe, to Lesbos, to see some of the hotspots there where the Syrian refugees come from. There were a number of north Africans there and some were protesting and throwing things at the bus I was on, wondering why the Syrians were getting preferential treatment. Having seen what they go through to get there, it is possible to understand their concern.

    We need to look at how the Italy-Libya deal is framed. I understand that it is a bilateral arrangement supported by the EU, but that it is being contested in the Libyan courts by human rights organisations based in Libya. I want to ask the Minister how robust the memorandum of understanding between the countries is, when there are reports of Libyan coastguards taking bribes to release migrants to traffickers. A second question leads on from that. The Department for International Development is doing fantastic work, as it tends to do. It is a world leader in the aid and support it gives. However, it is supporting more than 20,000 emergency interventions, involving healthcare, psycho-social support, hygiene kits and safe shelter. Can we be sure that we have robust accountability, to ensure that any support we give is not being fed into and supporting the cycle of trafficking, and that it is focused absolutely on the things I have specified?

    It is good to hear that the IOM has managed to up its repatriation flights. The target originally was for 1,000 people a month to be taken back to their place of origin; that has gone up, and it is expected that 15,000 people will be repatriated to their original country this month alone. That is a good sign of the direction in which things are going.

    I wonder whether DFID can get involved, either directly or through leverage of support from elsewhere, in trying to get accurate numbers. Together with the power vacuum, a problem that hampers what is being done is the fact that no one really knows the extent of the problem. There is work using various methodologies, but there is more to be done to get accuracy. Can we, for example, build up a phone network so that families from around the relevant part of sub-Saharan Africa can report in and talk about their loved ones—where they are, what has happened, the last time they saw them, and so on—so that we can begin to get more accurate figures?

    Of course the UK Government will have a competing agenda. We want accountability, clearly, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) says, there is a need for stability and preparation for elections; we need to give support on the route towards elections, to get rid of the power vacuum. It is only a question of enforcement—everyone knows that slavery is illegal already, and there is nothing to be done to change the rule, but someone is needed on the ground to arrest the people in question and hold them to account, bringing them to court and applying the full force of the law to them. If, for any number of reasons, there is no one on the ground to do that at the moment, it will not happen.

  • Slavery these days is completely different from the way people would have imagined it some years ago. Many of the people who are trafficked get themselves to the traffickers to get somewhere else. Should we be looking at the possibility of DFID or others educating people in their country, village or town of origin, so that they do not embark on the journey in the first place? Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be helpful?

  • I absolutely agree, because it is a matter of pull factors, and stopping people having to make the choice to migrate over such a treacherous route. They have so far to go: there are human traffickers; people may just be ditched at the side of the road as I have described, or sold out of a bus in the back of a car park, and then sold on again and beaten with wires; they may then be on the Mediterranean on a boat—and the technique used with those small boats is that as soon as a navy cutter comes to the rescue, they are deliberately capsized to tip the people in the water. The rescuers have to pluck them out of the water; they cannot just pull the boat somewhere. To return to the Greek example, while I was there I met a Yazidi Christian—someone on a different migrant route—with a 10-day-old child. They had gone through that whole process. How the child, who by then was aged three months, was still alive, I shall never know. Those are the most treacherous circumstances, so anything that can be done to stop the migration in the first place must be the only course of action.

  • I want to pick up on the previous intervention. I think that there is a huge role for British companies in educating people in their country. I went to see Unilever in Nigeria; it has eradicated modern slavery from its whole supply chain, and that has had a big effect in the effort to convince Nigerians that they should stay and make something of themselves in their own country. Unless we do that, we shall run into a lot of problems.

  • My hon. Friend makes a typically insightful point, and it is right to use some of our big companies working in the areas in question to provide education and secondary industries. As we move into looking at trade agreements with Africa but while we are also a member of the EU, we could seek tariff reduction as well. Obviously a big concern is tariffs on the least developed countries, but with the slightly better-off countries such as Nigeria, the “Everything but Arms” rules do not apply. They are charged a lot in tariffs on coffee and chocolate and similar things, and cannot build up the secondary industries that would help to develop gainful employment, so that people would have a stake in their own area and not feel the need to leave to find a better life.

    I have talked about the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and it is nearly 200 years since the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 that William Wilberforce worked for. Only last year there was a remake of the seminal television programme of the book “Roots” by Alex Haley. I watched the original version, but the one I watched last year seemed to be of a time gone by. There have been other fantastic films about slavery that have also really hammered their point home, but they give the sense that “This happened so long ago; isn’t it wonderful that we have stamped it out?”—but we have not; that is the news. It is still going on every day.

    I ask the Minister to answer my questions. Finally, what more we can do as a country to support Libya, improve conditions and ultimately end the need for detention camps there?

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. As we heard in the extremely powerful opening remarks from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), there is incontrovertible evidence that slavery—that brutal and dehumanising exploitation—is taking place in Libya today.

    As we know, modern slavery is shamefully common in our world and exists in our country. However, the images and words that have come out of Libya in recent weeks are shocking and have historical resonance: the victims are black Africans and the people who have enslaved them are not. The people who have been bought and sold in Libya have been violated in so many ways; they have experienced much violence and they have been betrayed and cheated at every step of their journey.

    The personal stories make clear that the victims have paid, borrowing and scraping together money to start a journey to Europe because they believed an evil deception—but that was only the start of their exploitation. They are left utterly alone, terrified and without support in an unstable foreign country and under the control of people who care only about extracting every penny that they can from their “merchandise”. Foka, a Cameroonian, described the beatings he witnessed and endured at the hands of the traffickers, as he and others were cowed and forced to submit:

    “There was torture like I’ve never seen. They hit you with wooden bats, with iron bars…They hang you from the ceiling by (your) arms and legs and then throw you down to the floor. They swing you and throw you against the wall, over and over again”.

    Foka’s injuries were still visible when he made that statement.

    The traffickers are not only exploiting young migrants through slave labour but making money from ransoms, as we have heard. Sometimes, to coerce a ransom payment, a migrant is forced to call a parent or relative and then beaten while the relative listens. The story of Victory, a young Nigerian man, is illustrative. First, he paid people smugglers, who lied and said they would get him to Europe. He then endured weeks of slave labour in Libya once he could no longer pay them, and he was then forced to find a ransom payment to set him free. His mother had to beg and borrow the money to save his life. Victory’s ransom was more than 1 million Nigerian naira, which would take 56 years to earn on the local minimum wage. Victory had already spent his life savings to pay the people who exploited him, and now his family may literally face a lifetime of debt while his exploiters continue to escape justice. 

    As we have heard, Mohammed Abdiker, of the United Nations migration agency, said that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face

    “systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder…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.”

    The UN estimates that there are anything from 700,000 to 1 million migrants currently in Libya, with 70% from sub-Saharan Africa. Evidence shows that 30% of adults and 40% of children have been forced to work against their will. That is a massive number. So many people enslaved—so many children.

    I would like the Government to outline what we are doing to stop the enslavement and sale of human beings in Libya and the trafficking of people towards the Mediterranean. I understand that France is to work with the UN’s sanctions committee for Libya to identify individuals or organisations involved in trading human beings. That committee can require UN member states to freeze assets owned or controlled by individuals on its list and can impose a travel ban. Does the Minister support that proposal, and will he work to ensure that that committee has all the information it needs?

    Action against slave traders must be the priority; they have to be shut down. However, there is obviously a broader context. Large numbers of desperate people from sub-Saharan Africa are stuck in Libya. That was not their intended destination, and it is getting harder and harder for them to move on, partly because of the actions taken by our Government, in concert with many other European Governments, to make it harder for migrants to cross the Mediterranean.

    Those actions have generally been taken with good intentions, motivated by a desire to shut down trafficking routes. However, shutting down the traffickers who run routes up and down the Mediterranean is clearly only half done at best; the terrible re-emergence of slavery in Libya is testament to and a consequence of that. If we want to reduce harm by closing those routes, that strategy cannot stop at the shores of north Africa—action needs to be taken in Libya and, equally, in countries to its south.

    Social media is a critical tool for the perpetrators of modern slavery. It is how traffickers advertise, spread lies and recruit victims, and it enables them to run their amoral trade. Social media companies, whether they like it or not, have a role to play in disrupting this trade, and I hope the Minister will comment on any conversations he has had with those companies in his remarks.

  • The hon. Lady rightly raises social media. However, does she agree that social media has also played a positive role in getting this petition out and this issue raised? The one caution I urge is that some of the photos doing the rounds to raise awareness of the slave trade are actually not related to the slave trade. It is important that, when we share photos, we share accurate photos, which is not always easy to do.

  • I am sure the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: social media can play a very useful role in our society. However, we need to understand that it can be used by completely unscrupulous people to lure others into slavery and ultimately, possibly, to their deaths. Social media companies have to accept responsibility for what they do and find ways to help us to close down those traffickers.

    The UN has understandably requested urgent funding—I presume the Government are considering that request—and 1,300 new resettlement places across the world for the most vulnerable African migrants in Libya. Niger has offered to take that number temporarily before the end of January, but a more permanent solution has to be found. The current situation is simply dire—so many people are vulnerable to slavery and all the abuses that go with it. Those people matter. African lives matter, and they need us to be their allies by taking action to end this today. This is not a situation that we can simply take note of and move on from.

    Who these hope-filled, naïve, ambitious, desperate migrants were before they fell prey to the traffickers is no longer important. All are refugees now, needing help and a route out. We could and should do more to help them. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on how we plan to do just that.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I want to thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for introducing the debate and the 265,272 members of the public who signed the petition, who include 663 people from my constituency.

    I was disturbed to see in November’s CNN footage that two black men were being sold as slaves—I could not believe that that was happening in this day and age, in the 21st century. As black descendants of slaves, we thought that that had been abolished. The footage showed a detention centre where rescued and escaped slaves were staying, and a young man explained his story. I am aware that the Minister has raised concerns with the Libyan Government about the human rights situation in Libya, but how can we be sure that the Libyan Government will do something about it given that they are struggling to establish their own authority?

  • I have been listening to the debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for introducing it. What we have seen is shocking and horrific. At the heart of it is what is happening in Libya. Where we are now is due to poor planning. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister needs to do a lot more to help stabilise the situation in Libya? In our various institutions we have a lot of expertise—and we have a special duty, in the light of the role we have played in Libya being where it is.

    The other issue is that our friends in the middle east are playing around with their rivalries, and innocent people are paying the price. Again, we should be using our influence to tell them to stop playing rivalry games in Libya. We need to see more stability in Libya and to stop what is happening.

  • I totally agree. That was not in my speech, so I am glad he added it.

    Although the Prime Minister has made tackling modern slavery a foreign policy priority, my question to the Government is: how will they actively tackle human trafficking and modern day slavery in Libya?

  • The number of refugees in the world is colossal; I think it is in the region of 60 million people. It is certainly more than the population of Britain. We need to remember that when we discuss the refugee situation and how to stop making it worse in the future. We have the opportunity in Africa to get the situation right the first time, and I hope we will take that opportunity.

    In my intervention, I mentioned that I spend a lot of my time in Nigeria as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy. That is not just about trade; it goes right across the spectrum of political and DFID-related activities that occur in that country. I would like to say a little bit more about the conversations I had the last time I was there, because it is a very good example of how we can get it right if we try.

    Nigeria has enormous problems with a terrorist group in the north-east and has contributed hugely to human trafficking in Africa. It has the potential to make an even bigger contribution, which I would not wish to encourage. Why would that occur? Why would people leave their homes and move away from where they live to entrust themselves to unscrupulous people traffickers on the coast of Libya? There are several reasons. One is clearly the terrorist situation in the country. The only way we will deal with that is not a military option but by ensuring that the growth we want to see in the country is shared out across it to the people who are participating in generating that growth. That goes to the heart of the second group of people involved, which is the population at large.

    Unless we help to get sub-Saharan Africa right, which means contributing to the activities that Governments want to carry out to improve their countries so that growth can spread more evenly and more people can participate in it, the effect on Europe could be colossal. I mention Europe in that context because that is where we are and the perspective from which we are looking at the situation. We have to redouble our efforts as a Government and with companies there to ensure that that happens.

    Many British companies are looking at the market in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Prime Minister’s emphasis on tackling modern slavery is providing an enormous competitive advantage to those companies. They can turn up in the Nigerian market and say, “We fully subscribe to the Prime Minister’s modern slavery agenda.” The people in Africa absolutely rise to that challenge, and it is really heart-warming to see.

    As I mentioned, I have been to discuss this issue with Unilever, which is part-Dutch but principally a British company. It has been very successful in stamping out modern slavery from its entire supply chain. That company works, among other areas, in the agricultural sphere, in which many poor people are in need of something to live for and aspire to. It is a great triumph to have got rid of modern slavery, because that is just the sort of thing that will make the country right and ensure that people there have something to live for when they get up in the morning and go to work. I am very pleased to have been able to help with that.

    I know there is a lot to do in the world in this area. For instance, there is a crisis that I do not think we have ever talked about in this Chamber: the second largest group of displaced people in the world is actually not in Syria or in Africa, but in Colombia.

    I do not underestimate what we have to do to tackle this problem, but unless we are prepared to put the effort into tackling it and making sure our companies do the same, we will never solve it. That will not only be to the loss of Africa, which is an immensely rich and opportunistic continent—I mean that in the nicest possible sense of the word—with so much going for it, but it will also affect us. We all ought to bear that in mind. There is an element of self-interest in this, as there always has to be. By putting the emphasis on this issue and getting it right, we will help to make sure that the African situation does not extend into mass migration, with many millions of people putting themselves into the hands of unscrupulous people traffickers.

  • It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I pay tribute to every single individual who has signed the petition. It is also a pleasure to speak in the same debate as my hon. Friends the Members for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith).

    The recent news coverage of slavery in Libya and the slow and steady stream of harrowing footage emerging from the region, including cameraphone images, have shocked many of us. I have been contacted by a number of my constituents, many of whom identify as being from the African diaspora, who are outraged at what is going on. This is modern-day chattel slavery, and a window into practices that form part of a particularly traumatic collective memory for many communities. That human beings are again going through such horrific violence and injustice in 2017 is deeply concerning.

    There has been an international spotlight on these practices since CNN broadcast its footage, but the reality is that they are not new. As more and more migrants make their way towards the Mediterranean, criminal elements have sought to exploit vulnerable migrants. That is of course not unique to north Africa. The trafficking of migrant women and children takes place in Europe as well as on the shores of Libya, but what Libya shows is how such wickedness and criminality can grow amid political turmoil.

    The conditions that lead to migrants being exploited will not go away any time soon. Demographic changes on the African continent and climate change will see more and more migrants looking for opportunities in Europe. Just as “Fortress Europe” relied on Gaddafi to detain migrants, we now see a complex partnership between the EU and the Libyan authorities that seems to prioritise protecting European borders over the human rights of refugees and migrants.

    Amnesty International has made some key demands to end these practices—demands that I support. I hope that the Government act on them and support Amnesty in its approach to the crisis. First, there is a clear demand by Governments that the arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants in Libya arbitrary. The second demand is that international partners work together to investigate all allegations of torture and other ill treatment of refugees and migrants in Libya, and to ensure that the suspected perpetrators are prosecuted in a transparent and fair trial to put an end to the vicious cycle of abuse. The other demands are for EU states to review how they co-operate on migration policies; to prioritise protecting the human rights of refugees and migrants instead of trapping people in Libya; and to recognise formally the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and allow the organisation to carry out its full mandate, including the protection of asylum seekers and refugees.

    The stories and images from Libya are shameful, and I hope that the Government act to end these practices. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, African lives matter.

  • It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I begin by thanking those who initiated the petition and have secured over a quarter of a million signatures—an incredible feat. It is vital that we bring this hugely important issue to the forefront in Parliament today, and from what I have heard in the previous speeches, all of us in this Chamber feel very passionate about this matter.

    As we have heard today, the world’s most vulnerable people, fleeing war and poverty back home, are being abused and auctioned off as slaves in Libya. According to reports, the trade works by preying on the tens of thousands of vulnerable people who risk everything to get to Libya’s coast and then across the Mediterranean into Europe. That has been described as the deadliest route on earth. The International Organisation for Migration, which provides services and advice on migration to refugees, estimates that there are up to 1 million migrants in Libya, and more than 2,000 have died at sea this year attempting to travel that route.

    Most of the migrants in Libya are fleeing armed conflict, persecution or severe poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Their journey usually begins with a deadly trek through vast deserts to Libya and then involves either braving the Mediterranean sea on rickety boats headed to Europe or struggling to survive in one of the overcrowded detention centres in Libya, many of which are run by smugglers. As a result, many of those detention centres are the scene of widespread torture, rape and forced labour, according to the United Nations. When they get too crowded, people are sold off like goods in an open market. Testimony from the International Organisation for Migration states that

    “they get off the bus and they are quickly put into a kind of murder machine, an extortion machine. They are robbed of their possessions…They are forced, they are tortured…And then they are sold. Unbelievable, but they are sold in open, public auctions: $400 for a labouring man, maybe a bit more for a woman who can be put in the sex trade. And this is what’s happening across the country.”

    As we have heard today, recent news footage of scenes reminiscent of the 19th century, when the slave trade was rife, shows auctioneers advertising a group of west African migrants as

    “big strong boys for farm work”

    and referring to the migrants in Arabic as “merchandise”. That disturbing footage has served as a wake-up call for some and has rightly sparked outrage across the globe. Hundreds of thousands of people have now signed the petition demanding that more be done to stop the sale of vulnerable people in Africa. On 9 December, thousands of protesters descended on the Libyan embassy in London in an anti-slavery march. That followed protests across Europe, including in Stockholm, Paris and Brussels.

    Libya is by no means unique: modern-day slavery is widespread around the world. It is happening in developed as well as undeveloped countries. There are estimated to be—wait for it—more than 40 million people in modern slavery in the world today. Forty million people; that is just under two thirds of the population of the UK. What is particularly shocking is that it is happening in the open, particularly in Libya, where people can go to a farmhouse, place a bid and end up “owning” a fellow human being.

    The UK Government’s response to modern slavery has been slowly improving in the past few years. An example of that is the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which of course is very welcome. However, it is time for the Government to go further, with concerted, co-ordinated global action, and to lead from the front. Tackling forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking should be an absolute priority for the UK Government, both here and abroad. I ask the Minister to tell us here today what further steps the UK Government will take in order to lead the international approach to tackling this crisis.

    Experts say that reports of slavery coming out of Libya from human rights groups and non-governmental organisations have been falling on deaf ears for a very long time. The UK Government must put pressure on Libyan leaders to stop the illegal markets, and those committing these unspeakable crimes must be brought to justice. We would like to see all UN member states working together to implement and enforce a protocol against human trafficking and slavery. That is not just a moral duty for the UK; it is a duty based on the active role that this Government has played in recent years and in conjunction with NATO in Libya.

    This slavery did not come about in a vacuum. The atrocities revealed in the recent footage are the direct result of NATO’s military intervention to topple Gaddafi, which created a lawless society. There are now three Governments: one in the east, one in the west and one backed by the UN, none of which are able to govern. The UK Government had next to no strategy to support and reconstruct post-Gaddafi Libya. Indeed, a report by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs stated that those failures led to the country becoming a failed state on the verge of all-out civil war. It is against that backdrop that the slave trade is booming. The human rights situation in Libya can be improved only under the stability of a united and representative Government, and the UK Government must work alongside international partners to support UN efforts towards that goal.

    Furthermore, the EU goes to great lengths to stop migrants coming into its territory. That even includes training the Libyan coastguard to stop boats reaching Italy. As a partner of the EU, the UK is complicit with the EU as it has pushed to tighten its borders and has not provided alternative safe routes for migrants and refugees.

    Amnesty International, in relation to its report published last week, said:

    “European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses…they are complicit in these abuses.”

    In other words, it is nothing short of a policy of containment. Amnesty International went on to say:

    “European governments have shown where their true priorities lie: namely the closure of the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused”.

    The reality is that that has led to hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants finding themselves trapped in Libya and exposed to horrific abuses, some of which we have heard about today. We will not be able to put an end to the tragedy in the Mediterranean if we do not create significant legal migration routes. It is also important to address the root causes of the crisis if it is to be resolved. We must ensure that people can find a dignified future in their home country. The UK Government need to work with the international community to co-ordinate efforts to tackle the root causes of large movements of people, including forced displacement, unmanaged migration, human trafficking and, of course, the ever increasing slave trade. Will the Minister therefore illustrate in some detail what steps the UK has taken to influence its EU partners to develop safe routes for people fleeing war, armed conflict and persecution?

    In short, what we have heard today is that the reports coming from Libya are of violations of human rights and human dignity on an unthinkable scale, and I am sure that all of us in this Chamber agree that they have no place in our world. It goes without saying that the UK cannot stay silent or stand by in the face of such inhumane atrocities, as it has done in the past and continues to do. It is therefore time for the UK to join the international community and act now through multilateral diplomacy with the EU, NATO and the UN Security Council, where the UK still has significant influence, and to take all measures to end slavery in Libya and help to rebuild and reconstruct a stable and secure country.

  • It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker.

    I would like to start by congratulating, as other hon. Members have, those who organised the petition that has prompted this very important and timely debate, especially Constance Mbassi Manga. I understand that as of 2 pm today, 265,278 signatures had been received, of which 666—I do not know whether that is significant—were from my constituency.

    I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who opened the debate. He read us the text of the petition, and it is important to remember what is in that. He talked about the Modern Slavery Act, which other hon. Members have referred to. It is a very important piece of legislation that I hope will help to pave the way for this country being a prime mover in the abolition of slavery worldwide. He also pointed out that what is happening in Libya is not hidden, and it has to stop—all hon. Members have agreed with that. He mentioned the role of the International Organisation for Migration, which I will speak of again in a minute, and talked of the inhumane treatment of human beings who are being bought and sold as commodities. Sadly, 200 years since Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in the UK, slavery still exists in other parts of the world. The hon. Gentleman also asked what more we can do for Libya.

    My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) talked of her shock, and the violence towards and the betrayal of those cheated by an evil deception and left utterly alone and terrified in a foreign country, where they suffer torture, beatings and violence by traffickers. She also talked of the systematic abuse of those migrants and of their murder. The UN estimates that there are about 700,000 migrants in Libya at the moment. It is estimated that 40% of the children are forced into labour, as she mentioned. What are the Government going to do? She said something that has been echoed by many speakers this afternoon: “African lives matter.” All lives matter.

    We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith), who mentioned her shock, as a black descendant of slaves, that this can still be happening in the world. There was also an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), who said that we have to do something about the state of Libya.

    The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) talked of his role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Libya and, I imagine, the Maghreb countries as well—I do not know.

  • Just Nigeria; okay, sorry. The hon. Gentleman asked why people would leave their homes and trust themselves to unscrupulous traffickers in Libya, but we have had the answer this afternoon from many hon. Members who have contributed. He said that unless we get sub-Saharan Africa right, the effect on Europe could be colossal. I agree with him, but it is absolutely vital that we destroy this appalling practice of slavery not just because of the effect that it will have on us in Europe, but for the sake of the welfare of our fellow human beings on that continent.

  • I did make it clear in my speech that we need to get rid of slavery both for the sake of Africans’ lives, and for the sake of our lives. It is a win-win situation.

  • I entirely accept that. I do not think that any hon. Member in this room or in this House would condone what is going on, not just because of the effect on us but because of the effect on those individuals, families, communities and nations. I totally accept that.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) made a very powerful contribution. She talked of the harrowing footage that CNN showed, which shocked us all. She said that her constituents were extremely upset because many of them have that collective memory of slavery, and that she was shocked it was still happening in 2017. She said that these practices are, of course, not new and that this exploitation of the vulnerable has grown under the political turmoil. She also mentioned that climate change had a role in migration, as other hon. Members have done. She asked whether the Government could make their feelings felt on ending the arbitrary detention of migrants in Libya, and also talked of a vicious cycle of abuse.

    I am sure that, like the petition organisers, everyone in this House was utterly appalled at the video footage of the apparent slave auction. That was something that we felt had been left behind in the world in a previous century, but sadly and tragically it is very much still with us today.

    On its website, CNN talked about the United Nations-backed Libyan Government of national accord, or GNA, who apparently say that they are keen to address violations against illegal immigrants but call on regional and global partners to provide assistance. The website says:

    “Libya ‘is going through difficult times which affected its own citizens as well. It is, therefore, not fair to assume responsibility for the consequences of this immigration, which everyone unanimously agreed that addressing this phenomenon exceeds the national capacities,’ the GNA statement read. ‘We affirm again that the practical solution is to address the real reasons that drive people to leave their home countries, treat them and develop final solutions for them,’ it continued.”

    CNN went on—this was back in November—to say:

    “On Tuesday, Libya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that a committee has been established to investigate the auctions but asked ‘the international community to intensify in a spirit of responsibility and joint co-operation to assist Libya.’”

    It says, as we know and have heard this afternoon from many hon. Members, that:

    “In recent years, Libya has been flooded by migrants hoping to travel to Europe. The United Nations estimates there are now between 700,000 and a million migrants in the country. Those who have crossed the Mediterranean have shared stories about beatings, kidnappings and enslavement. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Monday”—

    I guess that is Monday last week—

    “he was ‘horrified’ at reports of migrants being sold as slaves, which could amount to crimes against humanity.”

    They certainly do, from what we have heard this afternoon. The website continues:

    “Guterres called on the international community to unite on the issue and said the auctions were a reminder of the need to manage migration flows in a humane manner that addresses the root causes, increases opportunities for legal migration”—

    which has been referred to by many hon. Members this afternoon—and, most importantly, “cracks down on smugglers…Mohammed Bisher, head of the government’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority, said detention facilities are overwhelmed and he urged countries from which migrants travel to take more responsibility. ‘We are 278 million Libyan dinars (nearly $210 million) in debt. We have to provide food, medicine, transportation... If the African Union wants to help, they can help,’ Bisher told CNN. Bisher said Italy has been providing some assistance, co-ordinating with Libyan officials and, in some cases, helping with deportation but more needs to be done.”

    The Guardian reports:

    “The latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages [in Libya]”.

    It says that Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s head of operation and emergencies, says:

    “The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants.”

    It continues:

    “Even growing international awareness of the problems migrants face is being exploited. IOM has had credible reports of criminals posing as aid groups that help migrants to lure in people who have escaped or bought their freedom and want to return home.”

    How horrific is that, Mr Walker?

    The organisation is working to spread awareness across west Africa of the horrors of the journey through the personal stories of those who return. Though most migrants know the boat trips to Europe are extremely risky, fewer realise they may face even worse dangers in Libya before even reaching the coast.

    ‘Tragically, the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help,’ said spokesman Leonard Doyle. ‘Too often they are broken, brutalised and have been abused. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s.’”

    In the short term, it is clear that action is needed from Her Majesty’s Government, including protests and maybe even sanctions. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham made some suggestions, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea. We must ensure that the Libyan Government stamp out such practices and that humanitarian assistance is provided for individuals from other countries left displaced and destitute in Libya after the civil war, including, where possible, help to return home.

    In the medium term, it is obvious that Libya needs stability and order. It needs to move away from its current lawlessness in which life is cheap and human labour is bought and sold—not in the interests of British corporate investors, as the Foreign Secretary has argued, but in the interests of the Libyan people themselves, to whom we owe an enormous debt.

    I would like to mention somebody who is about to leave the Foreign Office: our current ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, whom I am fortunate enough to know extremely well. Just two and a half months ago, I had the opportunity to meet him in Tunis, where he is based because it is too dangerous for him to be in Tripoli. He briefed me on the current state of lawlessness, disorganisation and effective lack of any governance in the country to which he is supposed to be ambassador. Tragically, and sadly for me, he is leaving the service at the end of December, but I know that he will carry on being an important factor. He will continue to lobby and talk about the horrors that he has seen with his own eyes and about what he thinks can be done. He will be a great asset to our country long after he leaves the service.

    That brings me to the long term. It behoves all of us in this House to reflect on the shocking failure to prepare for the aftermath of our intervention in Libya in 2011. I believe that it was a lesson unlearned from Iraq and repeated even while the Chilcot inquiry was conducting its work. It was as a direct consequence of that failure to plan for the aftermath, and the abandonment of Libya to civil war, anarchy and the scourge of Daesh, that so many Africans from neighbouring countries—whether there as mercenary soldiers, migrant workers or refugees from other related conflicts—were left penniless, helpless and defenceless against exploitation by slavery gangs. We must all take our share of the responsibility for their plight. We must do whatever we can now to alleviate it. That is the very least that we can do.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank all colleagues who have taken part in this debate, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for opening it. Like everyone else, I also thank those who have worked so hard to raise the petition. I think we would all say that the fact that so few colleagues are here does not reflect the level of interest in the House; this debate has landed on a particularly busy day in the House. I venture to suggest that almost every single Member of the House of Commons would have wanted to listen to the speeches made today, and probably to make one themselves. Those who have done so much work to raise the petition should not doubt that they have done a great job. The way in which the House has conducted itself in this debate and the speeches that have been made reflect colleagues’ concern.

    The hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who spoke for the Opposition, did my job in running through the speeches. I thank him; I will not repeat the process because he summarised extremely well what colleagues said. I am coming to the substance of the debate, but I take issue with the statements about the intervention in Libya and the aftermath. I was there; I was the Minister responsible at the time. The hon. Gentleman praised Peter Millett; I know how hard diplomats worked in the immediate aftermath of the events that removed Gaddafi. There were elections. We worked to create a civil administration out of nothing, because Gaddafi had left nothing. There was an absolute commitment by those in Libya. They wanted no boots on the ground. There was a limit to what they wanted from the outside world. We tried. The circumstances are clear now: the efforts were not successful, despite all the work that was put in.

    There was no abandonment of Libya, but the depth of the damage done by 40 years of Gaddafi and the failure to create any institutions left a bigger hole than probably anyone understood at the time. There were a series of consequences, for which it is impossible to pin blame purely and simply, beyond on those who created the misery in the first place and who were overthrown. That is of only partial consequence now. What is important is to deal with what is happening at present, and that has been the substance of the debate.

  • I want to touch on that important point. We learned some painful lessons around Iraq. In terms of our involvement in Libya, was there preparedness and thought about medium to long-term plans and strategies at the end of the conflict, whatever its outcome, or was it a posthumous question at the end of, “Oh God, here we are now—what do we do next?”

  • During the conflict, nobody quite knew how it would end, because the circumstances were happening on the ground, militias were forming and so on. NATO played a part after the Arab League made a presentation to the UN demanding intervention because Benghazi was going to be attacked and people were going to be slaughtered. Let us not forget the reasons why the intervention happened in the first place: the determination to save civilian lives in Benghazi, prompted by the Arab League and the UN, was highly significant.

    All the way through the conflict, the sense was “What happens next?” That is why people went in afterwards to seek to build a civil administration and prepare the ground for elections. Those took place, and a Government were established, but the fallout since then has been a combination of pressure from Islamist forces that came into the process afterwards and the inability of those who formed the militias to agree among themselves about how to support the politicians in civil Government. It was thought through, but it could not be imposed.

    People themselves must create their own institutions. I remember people at the time praising the fact that there were not boots on the ground determined to do it for the Libyan people—they were doing it for themselves. It was thought through, but for every particular conflict and difficulty, it seems that a new adverse reaction is created, and that is what we are living through now. I will come to that and what we are trying to do, because it is most important.

    Anyone who has seen the horrific footage of slave markets in Libya cannot possibly have been unaffected by it; it is appalling. I also put on the record our admiration for the journalists who got the footage. When I saw the pictures of them going into that place, my first thought was, “They’re going to be killed.” How could anyone go into those circumstances unarmed, knowing that the people conducting the auction were who they were and what the outcome was likely to be. If they treated the lives of those whom they were buying and selling with such disdain, what would they think of reporters who were there to expose them? We thank the CNN crew who did such a remarkable job.

    We will always remember some of the things that came out of the footage, such as the talk of merchandise, as the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) mentioned. The hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) spoke of wickedness, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam. We discussed the fact that once someone has a mindset of treating someone else as not human, there is virtually nothing that they will feel unable to do. That has been the scourge of the region and other parts of the world for too long.

    The Government share the deep concern and alarm expressed about modern slavery, the formation of the conditions that have produced the migration, and what migrants face in Libya today. As the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) reminded us, we must not forget that the men, women and children enslaved in Libya typically began their journeys hundreds or even thousands of miles away. They are likely to have fallen foul of traffickers and organised criminal gangs that pay no heed either to the desperate human suffering caused by their despicable trade or to international borders. That is why our work to help the victims of traffickers, prevent others from falling victim to them and shut down the trafficking networks that exploit migrants must be carried out on an international scale, as all hon. Members have said.

    Let me first brief hon. Members on the UK Government’s work to tackle modern slavery globally and then focus on the situation in Libya. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has identified modern slavery as

    “the great human rights issue of our time”.

    She sponsored the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which more than one hon. Member has referred to this afternoon. Eradicating modern slavery is one of our top foreign policy priorities. As we know, modern slavery exists here, too, although not to the degree that we saw on those awful videos. It is everywhere, and tackling it is a cause that unites decent people everywhere.

    It is not acceptable that slavery still exists in the 21st century. We reckon that this vile trade generates around £150 billion a year for traffickers and organised criminal groups. As a criminal enterprise, it is second only to the drugs trade. Trafficking of people is horrific and criminal, but it generates huge amounts of money and that is why it goes on.

    We are pressing for concerted and co-ordinated global action. We are strengthening the international consensus to support migrants, tackle modern slavery and take a comprehensive approach to migration. The hon. Member for Dundee West asked what we were doing internationally. At the UN General Assembly in September, the Prime Minister convened world leaders to launch a call to action to end modern slavery. She also committed to using UN sanctions to target people traffickers and strengthening the ability of Libyan law enforcement agents to tackle these criminals. The hon. Member for West Ham is absolutely correct that if the people responsible can be identified individually, there are sanctions that can be applied. Most of us would like very serious sanctions to be used against them.

    We are also doubling our aid spending on modern slavery to £150 million. That money will be used to address the root causes of slavery, strengthen law enforcement capacity in transit countries and provide support for the victims of these horrific crimes. Their ordeal does not end when they are released; it goes on in their memory.

    The UK is committed to addressing illegal migration across the Mediterranean, including through work in Libya and further upstream. Hon. Members mentioned the need to bring different elements together; the UK supports a comprehensive approach that addresses the drivers of illegal migration and reduces the need for dangerous onward movements. That includes not only breaking the business model of smugglers and the trafficking rings that prey on the desperation of migrants, but providing vital protection to victims. The UK’s National Crime Agency is working with Libyan law enforcement, enhancing its capability to tackle the people-smuggling and trafficking networks.

    Our new £75 million migration programme will specifically target migrants travelling from west Africa to Libya via the Sahel. It will provide critical humanitarian assistance and protection; assist those along the way who may wish to return home; give information about the dangers ahead; and offer vulnerable people meaningful alternatives to treacherous journeys through Libya and Europe. It will also include a scale-up of reintegration support in countries of origin, particularly for those returning from Libya.

    The UK is conscious of the links between migration, people-smuggling and modern slavery. We are increasingly building modern slavery programming into our migration work. We have also assisted vulnerable migrants with voluntary returns. UK bilateral funding has helped more than 1,400 individuals to escape the challenging circumstances in Libya and return home. The hon. Member for Leeds North East spoke about the voices of those involved; as the recent programme demonstrated, it is those voices that are most powerful in dissuading others from leaving.

    If I may make a wider point, a significant amount of our international development contribution of 0.7% of gross national income is designed to be used in countries where we want to support the provision of alternatives for people who feel that their smartphone shows them a different life. We must not neglect how easy it now is for people to find out what is happening elsewhere. There are safer alternatives to leaving, but that can happen only when international development work of the kind that we are engaged in bears fruit.

  • I am sorry to interrupt the Minister’s flow, because what he is saying is really helpful, but two questions emerge from it. First, the UN has asked for additional funding; does he know of any additional money that we are contributing to deal with the slave trade? Secondly, advertisements are encouraging young people in sub-Saharan Africa to leave their homes in search of a better life via traffickers. Has any contact been made with social media companies to get hold of the people advertising those routes and deal with them?

  • The answer to the hon. Lady’s second question is that I do not know. I pick up on what she says as something new, and I am not aware of any specific action we have taken on it; I am confirmed in that view by a brief glance at my officials. However, it is a really interesting point. I am also not aware of what is being done internationally. As we have all discussed, this is not a problem that the UK can deal with on its own, and no one is asking us to. The point about the process of persuading people and contacting social media is very interesting; social media are capable of so much good, but can cause so much ill when used carelessly. I will look into that matter specifically and ensure that the hon. Lady and other hon. Members are aware of what action we might take.

    As the Prime Minister made clear last year, we stand ready to support the UN further. I have no new figures, but a £150 million programme was recently announced and additional money is going through. Part of that goes to UN agencies that we work with on enforcement issues and humanitarian support.

    Hon. Members also mentioned Libya’s stability. Ensuring Libya’s stability and helping the Libyan Government of national accord to restore unity, take control of their southern and coastal borders, and rebuild the economy is the best way to tackle the organised criminal groups that are making Libya a transit route for illegal migration. Let me update the House on the present state of affairs in Libya with respect to the Government and reconstruction.

    I was pleased that the hon. Member for Leeds North East referred to Peter Millett, who will indeed retire quite soon and who has had the most difficult time in recent years, having been unable to work in Libya. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have visited him, both in the compound in Libya and in Tunisia.

    The Government of national accord are supported by a UN resolution. We are working with them and with UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé on the negotiations to move the governmental process forward, which have reached a critical stage. The Libyan political agreement is being adapted and extended. Ghassan Salamé is spending his time trying to bring the various parties together to put the right names into the presidential council and work through a political process that is exceptionally difficult because of huge vested interests and a degree of distrust between the parties. The UN special representative and our own ambassador have worked so hard to address those difficulties. The ambassador was recently in Benghazi; he was able to get into eastern Libya for the first time in some years and talk to people there.

    Libya is still a divided country in many ways, and the political process is absorbing a huge amount of time. Of course, that means that law enforcement agencies on a national scale are very difficult to drive and control, because on the ground both money and guns talk louder than a national Government. We would be foolish to think anything else. We therefore have to continue to strengthen that national Government, so that they have both the authority and the physical ability to enforce what needs to be done about these gangs.

    The Libyan Government have indeed been strengthened. I saw Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister recently to express our concern about what the television coverage has shown of the auctions. The Libyan Government had committed to establishing a commission to look further into the issue and see what they could do, and the United Kingdom and other countries need to be clear that we will support the enforcement efforts they need to take. Commissions are one thing, but everybody in this Chamber wants to see some action, which can only be carried out with international support for those who are driving it forward.

    To achieve further and long-term sustainable progress, we also need to invest upstream in countries of origin and transit. Africa continues to account for the largest percentage share of UK bilateral official development assistance expenditure allocated to a specific country or region. It received approximately £2.9 billion in 2016, or 51% of our bilateral ODA spend, and much of that money is designed to take away the root drivers of migration. I have no doubt that the determination to do that is strongly shared by every Member of the House, including all those who are here today.

    The African Union can indeed play its part. The recent summit agreed to establish a joint European Union-African Union-United Nations migration taskforce aiming to accelerate assisted voluntary returns, to bring sub-Saharan nationals back to their own countries from Libya and to provide resettlement for the most vulnerable, including those we saw in the cages and at the auctions. Again, that can be done only by combined work, and we are engaged in that work. The first meeting of the taskforce took place in Brussels just at the end of last week, and the UK strongly endorses ongoing efforts by the EU, the AU and the UN to address the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable people upstream in Africa, including the declaration on assisted voluntary returns at the recent EU-Africa summit. We also look forward to receiving further information on the new joint migration taskforce, following the agreement reached at that summit.

    Colleagues have mentioned support for Nigeria. So far, the UK has committed £2 million to establish a joint border taskforce in Lagos by partnering with the Nigerian Government. That taskforce is designed to identify and protect potential victims of trafficking, and to arrest and prosecute traffickers in line with international compliance standards. The taskforce’s centre will support and expand on the 335 prosecutions that have already been made by Nigeria’s national agency for the prohibition of trafficking in people, and it is linked to efforts to combat illicit financial crime, including through asset seizures.

    We have also announced a further £12 million to tackle modern slavery in Nigeria. That funding will help to support victims, build criminal justice capacity and promote alternative livelihoods. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) was right to say that commercial practices can play a part. Just as companies have been concerned in the past to make sure that fair trade was part of their ethos as they worked to provide commodities, so they must be absolutely and completely vigilant about slavery and illegal trafficking, and there must be the harshest sanctions against those that breach those rules; there is no doubt about that.

    I will just deal with a couple of further issues. First, I will make clear it again that we do engage the Government of Libya and the Libyan authorities on the issue of migration and modern slavery. In August, the Foreign Secretary urged Prime Minister Sarraj to respect the human rights of migrants, and as I have said, I raised the human rights situation with Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq just a few days ago. Again, however, we do not underestimate the difficulties that the Libyan authorities face, which can be resolved only when the political situation in Libya is itself resolved.

    Humanitarian support is also vital, because we must also deal with that strand of the issue. Since October 2015, we have allocated more than £175 million in response to the Mediterranean migration crisis, including substantial support for Libya. I mentioned earlier that migrants who find themselves in slavery in Libya come from many hundreds of miles away. That is why we have to take a comprehensive approach to migration, addressing the root causes as well as working to alleviate the conditions that migrants face.

    We have a flagship programme to address some of the drivers of modern slavery in Nigeria’s Edo state, which is the country’s trafficking hub. As I said earlier, our work with the joint border force in Lagos and the work that I announced earlier also make a difference. We have a new £75 million programme, as I mentioned earlier, focusing on the route from west Africa through the Sahel to Libya. That includes a new £5 million allocation of support in Libya, which was announced today by the Secretary of State for International Development. That is designed to provide humanitarian aid and protection to migrants and refugees, some of whom are in detention, as part of the work we announced at the June European Council.

    Also this year, our aid and development programmes have supported more than 20,000 emergency interventions for migrants and refugees in Libya, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam mentioned in his opening remarks, providing everything from food to healthcare, from hygiene kits to emotional support and safe shelter. We have also provided tailored services for women and girls, to protect them from the heightened risks that they face of trafficking and sexual and gender-based violence.

    At the December European Council, the Prime Minister also announced a further €3 million for the EU trust fund for the north of Africa window, which includes countries such as Libya. The funding will be used to protect vulnerable migrants in north Africa, to tackle the root causes of irregular migration and to create opportunities for people to find jobs.

    We are committed to ending modern slavery wherever we find it, in this country or abroad. In Libya, that is a complex task. It requires us to convince migrants to build a bright future for themselves at home, which we will do only by helping to strengthen economies right across the continent of Africa. It also requires a Libyan Government to emerge who control all of Libya in the interests of all Libyans, as well as a concerted international effort to put the traffickers behind bars. We are working to accomplish those goals, so that these shocking slave markets can finally be consigned to the past. It also requires the human heart to be changed, so that people are no longer treated as “the other” and no longer can the wickedness of slavery live.

    I remember speaking just a few years ago in the Wilberforce debates, as we discussed the passage of our anti-slavery legislation, and I realised even then, as we spoke to different audiences, that slavery was still going on. Indeed, it was reckoned at the time that there were more slaves in the world then than there had been in Wilberforce’s time. To be dealing with this issue today is especially distressing. African lives matter; all lives matter; and this House says so.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Walker, for calling me to wind up the debate, and I also thank the Minister for his typically comprehensive and open response to the questions that have been put to him today. It does not take experiments such as the Stanford prison experiment and other psychological research experiments to see how bestial people can be to other people. We need only look at Rwanda, the situation in parts of Rakhine state in Burma and obviously the slave trade that we are discussing here today to see such bestial behaviour happening every day.

    I will also just say thanks again to Constance Mbassi Manga and the signatories to the petition; to the supporters who have raised the issue on social media to bring it to the public fore; and to Nima Elbagir from CNN and her team who, as we have heard, bravely reported this story. I spoke to Nima this morning and she is really fired up for following up the story, to make sure that some action comes out of it.

    This has been a very good debate, and I will not go through what has been said, as I must be brief. I will just say that, although there have been calls on our time today from the main Chamber and elsewhere, we have hopefully done what we aimed to do, which was to tell the story of the people in Libya who are on the frontline and who are suffering. We must tell those human stories to raise the profile of the issue and to add depth to the coverage of it, so that we can try to find solutions. I very much thank everybody who has taken part in the debate today.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Resolved,

    That this House has considered e-petition 205476 relating to the enslavement of black Africans in Libya.

  • Sitting adjourned.