EU-Africa join forces against slave trade

People protest against slavery and slave auctions in Libya, during a rally in Geneva, Switzerland, 25 November. [SALVATORE DI NOLFI/EPA]

During an emergency meeting on the situation in Libya, nine African countries and European member states decided to launch a joint intelligence operation to dismantle the human trafficking networks. EURACTIV France reports.

The tragic situation of migrants being trafficked in Libya has taken space on the agenda of the 5th summit between the European Union and the African Union in Abidjan.

On the sidelines of the summit, the African Union, the EU and the Secretary General of the United Nations, as well as nine countries present at the summit (Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Chad, Niger, Libya, Congo, Morocco), held an emergency meeting to decide on actions to stop human trafficking in Libya.

As a transit point for many migrants seeking to reach Europe, Libya has witnessed an increase in inhuman treatment of migrants waiting for a possible crossing of the Mediterranean. Nothing new, but following a report by the American channel CNN showing a sale of slaves at auction, the situation called for leaders to react.

“These images, like the photo of little Aylan two years ago, drowned in the sinking of a migrant boat to Turkey, had the effect of an electroshock at the political level. Although the slave trade of migrants in Libya is not new, sometimes a trigger is needed for the reality of the situation,” said a source at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).


Released a few days before the high-level summit between the two continents, these images propelled the Libyan situation to the top of the political agenda of European and African leaders. “How long are we going to watch this tragedy, inactive? Our summit must be the starting point for durable solutions,” said African Union President Alpha Conde, opening the summit.

While the official conclusions of the summit were still drafted, leaders announced a number of initiatives to counter the traffickers.

“We discussed short, medium and long-term solutions to put an end to this atrocious and intolerable situation,” French President Emmanuel Macron told a press conference at the French Embassy in Abidjan on Wednesday evening.

According to the French president, Libyan authorities have agreed to allow access to Libyan soil to evacuate identified camps “where these scenes took place”. To fight these networks more effectively, the countries agreed to pool their intelligence services to create an operational “task force”. This would be tasked with “challenging and dismantling the networks of traffickers, as well as their financers”, said Macron.

On the aspect of international justice, the French president had already called the slave trade in Libya a crime against humanity. To the traffickers, the French president said a committee of inquiry would be set up within the African Union. “Then the UN could deploy the international court of justice,” he said.

Repatriation of migrants

The duty of care towards migrants stranded in Libya was also discussed, including the issue of repatriation of migrants to their countries of origin. On this aspect progress seem slower. President Macron said that the International Organisation for Migration, which operates for the repatriation of migrants to Libya, would benefit from increased support, but without making a financial commitment.

“The European Union will help the resettlement of migrants in countries of origin and finance what it can,” he said, without giving more details on this possible support.

For the time being, the IOM is repatriating willing migrants to their countries of origin, in consultation with the governments of African countries. Once returned, these migrants can benefit from reintegration assistance, partly funded by the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

Africa Fund dwindles

The EU’s Trust Fund for the African continent is down. The European Parliament and the Commission repeatedly asked member states to put their mone where their mouth is in order to fulfill their commitments.

Currently the fund is financed with €3.1 billion by the European Commission, which has increased its share following lack participation from EU countries, including France and Spain who promised and paid only €3 million euros.

The Commission has for the moment received €225 million in pledges, of which only €175 have actually been paid.

Start with human rights, democracy to help Africa, expert says

Only increased EU-Africa cooperation on education, employment and integration of youth can defuse the migration time bomb in preparation for the next decades, but the starting point is democracy, the president of the Hellenic-African Chamber told EURACTIV Greece in an interview.

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