Forced into Destitution on Libyan Streets

Libya - Salma* was 16 years old when she travelled to Libya with the assistance of a relative. She left her life and family at home – a small village in Ethiopia – to try to find work abroad. During the first six months Salma worked and lived at the house of her employer.

She communicated regularly with her family, had her own personal space and could practice her faith freely. However, when the conflict in Libya escalated and her employer decided to leave the country, Salma’s life changed dramatically. She was left behind with one of the employers’ relatives.

She cleaned and cooked from six o’clock in the morning until the late hours of the day. For four months she worked without receiving a salary or being allowed to call her family. She had limited access to food and water.

Even worse was to follow when one day, her new employer kicked her out of the house without any prior warning. With nowhere to go and with nothing to eat, Salma tried to survive on the tough streets of Tripoli. She was eventually found by the Libyan Red Crescent.

Traumatized by her experiences on the streets, Salma had difficulty eating and drinking and the sight of a man made her burst into tears.

It took a long time for the people who were trying to help her to gain her trust. But when IOM found a Libyan host family that already hosted two other Ethiopian nationals, Salma’s condition slowly began to improve.

Salma also started receiving psychosocial support and finally was – with IOM assistance – able to return to Ethiopia where she was admitted to a shelter for victims of trafficking.

Salma is just one of many victims of human trafficking in Libya, which remains a major destination for migrants.

Many migrants come to Libya from African countries seeking better work and living conditions. Many others hope to continue on to Europe. Many migrants are smuggled into the country and along the way many become victims of trafficking.

So far in 2016, IOM Libya has been alerted to over 50 cases of trafficking -  mostly single women and male labourers.

IOM Libya has been working to identify and support more safe shelters for victims and community volunteers who can host and help them.

Despite the many challenges, the referral system has steadily become more effective this year, with Libyans increasingly aware and engaged. The help of local NGOs has also made it easier to identify victims in need of help

*Salma is not the real name