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Europe's complicity in Libyan abuses

Photo: Irish Defence Forces

Europe's complicity in Libyan abuses

Angry reactions followed the mid-November 2017 CNN-report on slave trade in Libya. Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for Migration, said he was shocked by the images. The European crocodile tears came a bit late as the hypocritical Union is co-responsible for abuses in Libya.

Angry reactions followed the mid-November 2017 CNN-report on slave trade in Libya. Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for Migration, said he was shocked by the images. Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Reynders, expressed the same feelings and asked the Libyan authorities to increase the efforts to protect human rights. The European crocodile tears came a bit late as the hypocritical Union is co-responsible for abuses in Libya.

Testimonies over refugees being sold as slaves appeared already in spring 2017. That migrants in Libya are locked up in dreadful circumstances, are raped, tortured and even murdered has been reported more than once. The EU, though, prefers to look the other way. The European summit on refugees of mid-December 2017 illustrates the fact that human rights are not really a priority. This meeting formed the scene of a shameful theater of bickering over refugee resettlement quota to allocate to the different member states; a policy which is openly refused by Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. After the summit, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, declared explicitly that “ the protection of our territory and the outward borders along with restraining illegal immigration” are top priorities in the European measures.

The Union has been trying for years now to push the 'refugee problem' as far away as possible from its borders

Nothing new. The Union has been trying for years now to push the 'refugee problem' as far away as possible from its borders and it uses countries at the southern side of the Mediterranean as subcontractors. A decade ago Italy had already made agreements with Libya in order to “fight terrorism, organized crime, drugs smuggling and illegal migration”. The latter meant essentially to simply lock refugees up in detention centers in exchange for money. This policy then counted with the Union's support. But up to now Libya hasn't signed the UN Refugee Convention. Refugees without valid travel documents are considered to be criminals. Yet in those days maritime return missions were already executed under EU leadership, although reports existed on torture, murder and rape. The European Parliament even voted in 2010 a resolution that asked to 'stop the deportation of refugees”. It fell on deaf ears.

That was the time agreements were made with Colonel Qaddafi, who later fell in disfavor with European leaders. The brutal dictator, who had to fix up the dirty European migrant businesses, used to be a welcome guest of the European arms industries before he suddenly had to disappear. France and the U.K. took the lead in a military operation that resulted in Qaddafi's fall. Belgium participated in these air raids after a unanimous vote in the Belgian parliament. After this “most successful operation in NATO history” the country fell prey to militias, chaos and violence.

After the “most successful operation in NATO history” the country fell prey to militias, chaos and violence, an organized destabilization gave way to a real migration industry.

This organized destabilization gave way to a real migration industry. A growing refugee flux fell easily in the hands of militias and traffickers who put these people for big money on rickety rafts towards the European continent. Many thousands found death on the sea. But European summits concentrate on how to contain the migratory flux. A new maritime operation was to put an end to the people traffickers. The European summit in Malta, February 2016, decided to outsource the anti immigration policy by creating, financing and training a new Libyan coast guard. A very controversial measure as this coast guard is reported to sometimes cooperate with militia that are linked to people smuggling activities. That the number of asylum seekers in Italy has decreased since then with 86% is also the result of agreements that Rome made directly with Libyan militias to intercept refugees at the coast.

This is a way to keep European hands clean. The Union is now trying to involve third countries to take refugees, a policy model that is supported by the Belgian vice-minister for asylum Theo Francken. What happens to the people is of minor concern, priority lies with drying up the flow.

Europe's migration policy is a real shame. Brussels stands for human values, according to its owns words. But a humanitarian policy does not include agreements with people traffickers, but freezes their bank accounts. It keeps legal refugee routes open and puts an end to the violence at the European borders. It works on the root causes of the problems, which means amongst other things that we have to build up a fairer commercial policy and stop the arms trade.

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