Smugglers are reportedly using social media to lure potential victims to Libya, where they face torture and slavery. The UN's migration agency has urged the likes of Facebook to monitor its content and protect migrants.
The UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Friday called out social media giants, notably Facebook, for failing to combat smugglers using the platform to lure West African migrants.
Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the IOM, told a briefing in Geneva that social media was giving "a turbocharged communication channel to criminals, smugglers, traffickers and exploiters."
Doyle said the migration agency had tried to convince social media companies to help combat online traffickers, albeit with little success.
"We think it's time for some grown-up responsibility by the social media companies writ large for their platforms which are clearly having a very detrimental role on young, vulnerable populations across West Africa," he said.
"Facebook is pushing out, seeking market share across West Africa and pushing out so-called free basics, which allows ... a 'dumb phone' [a cheaper, generally older class of mobile phones limited to calls and text messages, which maintain a large market share in poorer regions — editor's note] to get access to Facebook. So you are one click from the smuggler, one click from the lies."
Facebook and the like have so far asked the IOM to flag problematic postings, but the IOM spokesman maintained that it was up to the companies to monitor their content.
Doyle added that families of victims also sometimes receive videos of their loved ones being tortured through WhatsApp, an instant messaging platform owned by Facebook.
Last month, the threat of trafficking and enslavement in Libya jumped to the top of the political agenda after footage emerged allegedly showing West African migrants being auctioned off at a market in Libya.
Amid global outcry, Libyan authorities vowed to launch an investigation into these "slave markets." The European Union has promised to take swift action, by agreeing to evacuate almost 4,000 third-country migrants stranded in Libya.
On Thursday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the "heinous abuses of human rights which may also amount to crimes against humanity" taking place in Libya.
Hundreds of thousands have attempted to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa into Europe since 2014, with many dying en route. European countries have been working with the Libyan authorities in a bid to stem the flow of new arrivals. The number of migrants entering Europe this year stands at around 165,000, around 100,000 fewer than last year. Nevertheless, thousands of West Africans continue to travel up to Libya hoping to make the crossing.
dm/msh (Reuters, dpa)