Libya human bondage risks overshadowing Africa-EU summit

Protesters attend a demonstration against alleged slavery in Libya, at Sergels torg in Stockholm, Sweden, 25 November 2017. [Claudio Bresciani/EPA/EFE]

This article is part of our special report EU-Africa Summit: Focus on youth, security, investment.

African leaders are expected to warn Europeans that their way of outsourcing the migration crisis to Libya, in apparent disregard for human rights, risks opening old wounds in the heavy history of the two continents.

The leaders of the 28 EU countries and their counterparts from the 27 members of the African Union will meet in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, on 29-30 November.

At the summit, leaders will discuss the future of EU-Africa relations and focus on investing in youth. This is a key priority for Africa and the EU as 60% of the African population is under the age of 25.

The EU is facing an unprecedented arrival of young African migrants, who cross the Mediterranean, at the peril of their lives, most often from the shores of Libya to Italy.

Italy brokers deal with Libyan tribes to curb migrant influx

The Italian government said yesterday (2 April) that dozens of rival tribes in southern Libya had agreed to cooperate on securing the country’s borders in an effort to curb the influx of migrants trying to reach Europe.

The EU insists that the summit is not about migration, but about partnership and development aid.

EU Foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini stressed that point last Wednesday in the European Parliament in Brussels.

“I would like to stress that this is not a summit on migration, it is a summit on partnership between the African Union and the European Union, which goes well beyond migration issues, but which of course, can give us the opportunity to have joint actions between the African Union and the European Union on the situation of migrants in Libya, not just today, because unfortunately this is a situation that has lasted for years.”

Mogherini is in an awkward position regarding the situation of migrants in Libya. Her native country, Italy, cobbled radical solutions to contain the flow of migrants there, entrusting the Libyan authorities to do whatever they can to stop refugees from entering its waters.

Italy inks deal with Libya neighbours to stem migrant flow

Italy has signed a deal with Libya, Chad and Niger to try to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean by beefing up border controls and creating new reception centres in the African nations.

Similarly, the EU executive arm is also trying to find an answer to the plight of migrants in Libya, which is acceptable under human rights standards.

EU working without 'letup' to help migrants in Libya

The EU said on Thursday (23 November) it is working without “letup” for a durable solution to the plight of migrants in Libya, adding it shared French President Emmanuel Macron’s anger over slave markets there.

Scant information is available about the situation of migrants in Libya, a country still in havoc. The US network CNN triggered a wave of condemnation when it aired footage ten days ago of an apparent auction where black men were presented and sold to North African buyers as potential farmhands.

Low-resolution images, apparently taken at a market in Libya earlier this year, showed humans auctioned at a slave market for the equivalent of €400.

In an interview to the international French TV channel France24, the President of Côte d’Ivoire Alassane Ouattara expressed his “disgust” at the revelations, demanding that those guilty of these crimes be brought to justice by the International Criminal Court. He said the issue would be on the agenda at the Africa-EU Summit his country will be hosting.

Many politicians in Africa have expressed their outrage at the situation in Libya — especially in West Africa from where most migrants originate. The President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou felt particularly revolted by the reports, summoning the Libyan ambassador to Niger and demanding the International Court of Justice investigate Libya for trading slaves.

Meanwhile, as France24 reported, the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, Alpha Barry, told the press that he had also summoned the Libyan ambassador to the capital Ouagadougou for consultations.

The fate of African migrants stranded in Libya has triggered strong warnings from the United Nations. But it seems that the CNN footage walked the extra mile.

UN denounces EU cooperation with Libya to stem migrant flow as 'inhuman'

The European Union’s policy of helping the Libyan authorities intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to “horrific” prisons in Libya is “inhuman”, the United Nations said on Tuesday (14 November).

Mogherini was questioned about the EU’s strategy of outsourcing the migration crisis to foreign countries such as Libya and Turkey, which received billions to prevent Syrian refugees from crossing to Greece.

She said the situation was different on two counts: first, the migrants stranded in Libya were not legitimate asylum seekers like those fleeing the war in Syria. And second, different international bodies were in charge.

“When it comes to Turkey, it is mainly refugees from Syria; when it comes to Libya, it is mainly migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and the relevant international laws apply in different manners and the relevant UN agencies are different – the UNHCR on one side, especially in Turkey, and the IOM especially in Libya.”

In fact, the EU had other ideas for the summit. After decades of ups and downs, the EU wants to overcome the paternalistic donor-recipient relation which characterises its dealings with the African continent, and open a new page of equal-to-equal political partnerships.

This is the fifth summit between the EU and Africa. The last one, in 2014, brought together more than 60 EU and African leaders. At the time, the EU was discussing bilateral cooperation plans with figures in the millions of euros.

Then the so-called “EU Trust Fund for Africa” was signed at the Valletta Summit on Migration in November 2015 and the ambition was raised in the billions figure. However, the member states provided little to the fund, with the bulk of contributions coming from the EU budget.

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Last month the European Commission told member states they needed to immediately chip in an extra €225m for migration-related projects in Africa due to run this year and early next.

Juncker: Member states contributed too little to Africa Fund

Speaking to the press after the first round of talks of the EU summit yesterday (19 October), Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the EU action was “reaching its limits” due to insufficient financing.

Under the central theme of “investing in youth”, this this year’s EU-Africa summit will aim to strengthen the partnership in order to address demographic dynamics in an orderly way.

The EU finances development programmes and initiatives benefiting multiple countries across Africa. Most of the funding comes from the European development fund (EDF), which has a budget of €30.5bn for the period 2014-2020.

On Thursday the European Commission defined concrete areas of investments for its External Investment Plan. The new plan will mobilise €44bn of sustainable investment for Africa and the EU neighbourhood countries.

The Commission singles out five areas of investment, so-called “investment windows” in which the first actions of the External Investment Plan (EIP) will be implemented. These investment areas are crucial for the development of countries in Africa and the EU neighbourhood.