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20th Jan 2020

EU to take part in Libya anti-slavery mission

  • Migrants at the Tariq al-Sikka detention facility in Libya (Photo: unsmil.unmissions.org)

France has said EU states will take part in a military operation to end slave trafficking in Libya.

French leader Emmanuel Macron announced the initiative in Abidjan on Wednesday (29 November) after a meeting in the margins of a larger EU-Africa summit that ends on Thursday.

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  • Macron spoke after meeting with African, Italian, German, and Spanish leaders in Abidjan (Photo: Consilium)

He told press the "emergency operation" would take place "in the next few days" to evacuate those who wanted to go back to their home countries from Libya.

He described it as a "concrete military and police initiative on the ground".

He added that Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the EU and UN-backed government in Libya, had given "his agreement that access be assured" to "the camps where barbaric scenes have been identified".

"What's happening in Libya is a crime against humanity," he said.

Macron spoke after meeting with the leaders of Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well as Chad, DR Congo, Libya, Niger, and Morocco, and with top EU, African Union, and UN officials at the summit on Wednesday.

He gave few details of the anti-slavery operation.

But African nations were to take the lead in freeing people from detention camps, identifying where they had come from, issuing travel documents, and paying for their repatriation, German news agency DPA reported.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration were also play a role in taking people home.

EU states were to contribute financial "fresh-start assistance" to returning migrants. They would also resettle in Europe some refugees who were at risk of persecution in Chad and Niger, the DPA said.

Macron's announcement came after US broadcaster CNN showed footage of people being sold as slaves for $400 a head in Libya earlier this week.

But reports of slave trading and other abuses there have been circulated by aid agencies for more than a year.

Allegations that a deal between Italy and Libya to stop people from crossing the Mediterranean has seen more people stuck in dire conditions were also repeated on Wednesday.

Amnesty, the UK-based charity, said there were "more than 20,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers … being unlawfully held in detention centres" in Libya.

"They face brutal treatment; beatings, torture, and rape", it said.

"The Libyan coastguard is stopping people at sea trying to escape these abuses, and bringing them back to detention. They are being trained, equipped, and supported by the European Union," Amnesty added.

France, the same day, called for a UN Security Council meeting to impose financial sanctions on human trafficking groups in the region.

The EU foreign service also announced it would launch a "joint task force" with the African Union and with the UN "to dismantle traffickers and criminal networks" and to "save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya".

Speaking at the EU-Africa summit on Wednesday, EU Council president Donald Tusk echoed France's Macron.

"The recent reports about the treatment of Africans - especially young people - by smugglers and traffickers are horrifying," he said.

He said he could "not accept" that "over 5,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean" on voyages to Europe in recent times.

He vowed to "fight against these unscrupulous criminals" involved in the trafficking trade, but he added that "migration is a long-term issue for us both - internally within Africa, which is hugely significant, and from Africa to Europe".

The EU is expected to pledge new aid money of up to €8 billion at the Abidjan event to help address the root causes of migration - poverty and conflict.

The European Parliament already adopted a €4.1 billion investment plan for the continent in September.

"There needs to be a true Marshall Plan for Africa," EU Parliament president Antonio Tajani said in Abidjan on Wednesday, referring to a US aid plan for Europe after World War II.

Tusk's speech also alluded to the rise of far-right, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic feeling in Europe.

"I do not need to explain here the political context in Europe today," he said.

EU 'burden-sharing'

He spoke amid discussions in the EU Council on a new scheme to share the burden of asylum seekers from frontline member states.

The proposal, circulated by the Estonian EU presidency, is based on voluntary participation. It comes after right-wing governments in Austria, Hungary, Poland and further afield boycotted earlier mandatory EU quotas on relocations.

About 161,000 people came to the EU by sea so far this year, according to UN figures, on top of 363,000 last year, and more than 1 million the year before.

Most of the new arrivals were Muslims, with a survey by US pollster Pew out on Wednesday saying the migration crisis was changing EU demographics.

It said that if migration continued at levels of recent years, the share of the Muslim population in Europe would grow from 4.9 percent today to as high as 14 percent by 2050.

It said the proportion in Germany could rise from six percent today to as high as 20 percent by the middle of the century.

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Mali's foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop told the EU in Brussels that the lack of vision and planning following the Nato-led bombing campaign in Libya helped trigger the current migration and security crisis.

UN criticises EU policy in Libya as 'inhuman'

The EU's policy of helping the Libyan coast guard to return people plucked from the sea is "inhuman", says the UN's human rights chief, given that most end up in dire conditions.

EU anti-slavery mission in Libya at risk, UN says

Karmen Sakhr, who oversees the North Africa unit at the UN refugee agency, told MEPs that Niger may stop accepting people from Libya if EU states don't take in more refugees.

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