Outrage over the plight of African migrants in Libya

November 26, 2017

There has been a legitimate interna­tional outcry over the footage broad­cast by CNN on November 13 purport­ing to show human traffickers auctioning African migrants in a Libyan “slave market.”
The United Nations wants an investigation. World leaders are outraged. Still, no concrete suggestions have been offered till now on how to end the practice of human trafficking in and through Libya.
The CNN footage is in fact only a reminder of a tragic situation that has been unfortunately known to the world. International organisations and human rights groups have many times documented the plight of African migrants arbitrarily incarcerated, tortured and even killed in Libya.
If Africans trying to reach Europe do not die crossing the Sahara or the Mediterranean Sea, they run the risk of being grievously abused and exploited by smugglers and militia groups. The real tragedy is probably the world’s apparent impotence or, worse, its reluctance to act.
Modern-day slavery is hardly an unknown problem, and it is not limited to Libya or to Africa. In September, research conducted for the UN’s migration agency showed that more than 40 million people were victims of slavery around the world in 2016.
In the specific case of Libya, the blatant mistreatment of African migrants is a sign of the country’s graveyard spiral into violence and disregard for human life as chaos reigned supreme after the NATO-led military campaign managed to topple Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011. During the last few years, Libya has fallen prey to rival militias, violent jihadists and trafficking gangs that were hardly reined in by rival governments and feuding political factions. Such a situation should have been foreseen by Western powers. As French political analyst and Middle East expert Paul Guigue recently pointed out: “Slave traders did not just fall from the sky, they came in NATO’s luggage.”
Indeed, the 2011 NATO campaign for Libya neither proposed nor executed a strategy to cover the post-Qaddafi era. For sure, the West rid Libya of Qaddafi, but it appears to have replaced despotic rule with dangerous anarchy.
Unsurprisingly, the void in Libya has been filled by those who seek to profit from its chaos and the desperation of the dispossessed. On Libya’s southern border lie many of sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest countries. Unable to offer good jobs and opportunity to their people, these countries are witnessing a steady outflow of migrants in search of better prospects in Europe. The UN has offered thinly veiled criticism of Europe’s short-sighted focus on preventing illegal migrants even if it meant closing an eye to the appalling treatment of Libyan migrants in Libya and authorising payoffs to Libyan militias.
The short-sighted approach only rendered the settlement of the Libyan crisis even more remote.
“The increasing interventions of the EU and its member states have done nothing so far to reduce the level of abuses suffered by migrants,” said UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein, adding that it was “an outrage to the conscience of humanity.”
The Libyan authorities should now diligently and seriously investigate the fears of the interna­tional community. The spectre of new sanctions hovers over a country already prey to instability and strife.
Outrage is a start. Concrete action must follow.

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