Wracked by civil war, terrorism and political instability, Libya is now grappling with the resurgence of a pernicious old problem: an active slave trade that sees countless migrants forced into a life of exploitation and abuse.

On a yearly basis, thousands of desperate African refugees attempt to make their way to Europe, fleeing instability in their home countries, but many end up exploited by modern-day slave traders. According to an April report by the UN Migration Agency, North Africans are held in parking lots and private prisons in the oil-rich country, and eventually sold on the black market for only hundreds of dollars.

“We talk to returning migrants every day and we hear this stories every day — stories of exploitation, psychological, physical and sexual abuse,” Giuseppe Loprete, Niger-based chief of mission of the UN International Organization for Migration, told CNBC recently.

For thousands of migrants paying to be smuggled out of North Africa, Libya remains the only route to Europe, and is a “black hole” where many disappear into exploitation, he said, adding: “The situation is only getting worse.”

The going price for kidnapped migrants ranges from $200 to $500 in Libya, according to survivors who have returned to the IOM’s transit center. In the last few months, the organization has arranged for the repatriation of 1,500 migrants back to their homes, which include Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia.

Libya is a gateway to Italy from Africa, with an estimated 25,000 migrants having crossed the Mediterranean Sea this year. Although Italy has taken measures to stem the flow of migrants from Libya, IOM data suggest crossings are on pace to challenge the nearly 182,000 migrants who landed in Italy last year.

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva, said in a recent statement. African migrants “become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value,” he added.

‘Terrible situation’

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