Africa-EU summit struggles with issue of migrants in Libya but leaves many questions unanswered
London- The issue of migrant abuse in Libya dominated discussions at the fifth Africa-EU summit in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, attended by 55 African Union and 28 EU leaders.
The November 29-30 summit, two weeks after CNN aired footage purportedly showing sub-Saharan Africans being auctioned off as slaves near the Libyan capital, involved AU, EU and UN officials agreeing to an emergency plan to dismantle people trafficking networks and repatriate stranded migrants in Libya.
Tripoli bowed to EU and African leaders’ pressure to do more to stamp out migrant abuse and agreed to identify migrant camps where inhumane practices occurred. It said it would allow migrants to be evacuated from them within days or weeks, mostly to their home countries.
Since the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a major transit point for sub-Saharan Africans trying to reach Europe. Many of the refugees and migrants have been abused by human traffickers.
The influx of migrants into Europe in recent years created the worst migration crisis since the second world war and EU countries are divided as they struggle to deal with it. The fragile security situation in Libya, which has also become a transit hub for terrorists, is a major concern for Europe.
At the Africa-EU summit’s opening ceremony, Cote d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara denounced modern slavery as “a wretched drama that recalls the worst hours of human history.”
“Libya restated its agreement to identify the camps where barbaric scenes have been identified,” said French President Emmanuel Macron following emergency talks between nine EU and African countries on the sidelines of the summit.
“Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj gave his agreement that access be assured,” added Macron. He said that the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) would receive increased support to help with the repatriation of stranded African migrants who are willing to return to their home countries.
Migrants who are likely to qualify for asylum would be sent to Chad or Niger and then relocated to a third country, either in Europe or another region.
Chad, Congo, France, Germany, Italy, Libya, Morocco, Niger and Spain have formed a task force designed to crack down on migrant smuggling networks and their financing and arrest traffickers.
Moroccan King Mohammed VI denounced the mistreatment of migrants in Libya as “despicable acts which are a total denial of humanity” and called on Europe to review its migration policy.
“These practices committed by armed militias who are not under the authority of the Libyan government are contrary to basic human rights and to the values and traditions of the Libyan people,” he said.
“It is unacceptable that the best African talents, in prestigious schools or working in the continent (Europe), are the target of the European desires, in disregard of the investments of their country of origin in terms of training. The resulting brain haemorrhage is deplorable,” he said.
King Mohammed VI attended the summit along with representatives of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a first since Morocco rejoined the AU in January. Morocco had pulled out of the African bloc 33 years ago in protest of the organisation’s recognition of the SADR.
Beyond its focus on the migration crisis, the summit concentrated on Africa’s long-term economic development with an emphasis on youth issues.
Ouattara called for accelerated and durable economic growth in Africa that could create jobs for young people and for quality education. He advocated establishing free-trade zones to improve access to the African and European markets through better regional and continental infrastructure.
AU President Alpha Conde said mobilising young people would require strategic engagement from both the European Union and the African Union. “We have taken note of the outcries of the representatives of the African and European youth in a bid to guarantee them a better future,” Conde said.
The European Union is the largest investor in and the largest donor to the African continent, a position that could be taken over by China.
The European bloc has set up multibillion-dollar funds to promote Africa’s economic development and stem migration to Europe. It has also sought to bolster security cooperation with African countries.
European Council President Donald Tusk said: “African security strengthens European security and vice versa,” adding that both continents have a common goal to shape together a safe and prosperous future for their youth.
“Given the challenges we face, some might think we are not going fast enough but we are more than 80 countries and two strong unions. It takes time to discuss things,” he said.