Migrant abuse in Libya overshadows EU-AU summit

There are concerns that the new efforts will have little effect unless they are part of a broader plan to restore stability to Libya.

One continent, many woes. A hostess stands at the venue of the fifth Africa- European Union summit in Abidjan, on November 29. (Reuters)

2017/12/03 Issue: 134 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Lamine Ghanmi

Tunis- African and European leaders agreed on “an extreme emergency operation” aimed at curbing migrant abuse in Libya and combating human trafficking in the Mediterranean. Questions remained, however, over how they would imple­ment the decisions reached at an Africa-EU summit or halt ille­gal migration from the war-torn country.

“We have agreed, along with the EU and the UN, to set up a task force for repatriating at least 3,800 people,” announced Mous­sa Faki Mahamat, head of the Af­rican Union Commission.

“It’s just one camp. The Libyan government tells us that there are 42 in all. There are definitely more than that. There are estimates of 400,000-700,000 African migrants in Libya.

Leaders meeting November 29- 30 in Cote d’Ivoire also agreed on forming a security and intelli­gence task force to combat human trafficking networks.

The measures came after foot­age was aired by CNN apparently showing migrants being auc­tioned as slaves near Tripoli. The footage sparked global outrage and pressured the international community to intervene.

There are concerns, however, that the new efforts will have lit­tle effect unless they are part of a broader plan to restore stability to Libya, whose UN-backed govern­ment in Tripoli has little control over large areas of the country.

“Two weeks of hand-wringing about slave auctions in Libya have been followed by two days of announcements designed to maintain the pretence of humani­tarian concern, while keeping Europe’s primary aim — the clo­sure of the central Mediterranean route — intact,” said John Dal­huisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe.

“The reality is that hundreds of thousands of refugees and mi­grants have found themselves trapped in Libya and exposed to horrific abuses, as a result of the EU’s intensive cooperation with Libyan authorities.”

French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out the intervention of French troops, calling instead for the deployment of an African police force in Libya. Such a pres­ence would come up against the existing potential for friction be­tween sub-Sahara Africa and the Maghreb at a time when the two African regions are trying to forge stronger economic, security and political ties.

The crisis has highlighted the void created by the absence of a unified North African group that could address the situation.

“Our regional groupings could have addressed the situation more efficiently,” Moroccan King Mo­hammed VI said at the summit. “We could have thought in this regard of the Arab Maghreb Union but this union is unfortunately not present.”

Approximately 3,000 illegal migrants are estimated to drown each year while trying to cross the Mediterranean on their way to Eu­ropean territory. They are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa but many are from the Maghrebi littoral.

Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.

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