Libya at the heart of EU-Africa relations

EPA/STRINGER

Migrants sit after they were rescued off the shore, in Tripoli, Libya, 16 May 2016. Reports state Libyan costal guards rescued 112 migrants, including women and a child, after a failed attempt to reach Europe.

Libya at the heart of EU-Africa relations


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The president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, outlined four points of common interest between Europe and Africa during his speech at the opening of the fifth African Union-EU Summit in Abidjan. These are migration, terrorism, climate change and economic development.

While such a high-level summit should focus on the last two points (climate change and economic development) and explore how to protect the environment while promoting development, these were overshadowed by the unprecedented situation in Libya.

In fact, terrorism and migration were at the core of discussions, speeches and concerns among European and African leaders.

The situation in Libya has been chaotic for the past six years. Warlords, organised crime and terrorist groups control entire parts of the country. And they deal in huge and lucrative criminal networks that include the smuggling of drugs and cigarettes, as well as human trafficking. Italy became a “bridge” for the arrival of thousands of migrants from Africa and Middle East. Traffickers and Italian organised crime “import” men, women and children and force them into various underground sectors of low paid and illegal work and prostitution. Earlier this year, the bodies of dozens of young girls were discovered floating in the Mediterranean. They are probably the victims of prostitution trafficking.   Worse still, slavery is also part of the criminal activities, as revealed by the United Nations and European leaders.

In fact, the African Union estimates that there are between 400,000 and 700,000 immigrants from different Africa states currently in Libya. They live under inhuman conditions, and they are subject to torture and malnourishment. They are slaves or potential slaves since slave markets have sprung up across Libya, in many cities and villages. Terrorism is an important factor of the drama.  Some of the African states experience long-time jihadist activity. For instance, Nigeria, Somalia and Mali are home to powerful groups that seize territory and use human trafficking and drug smuggling to generate revenue. Victims of their activities are found in more countries since their operations affect the territories of Chad, Kenya, Cameroon, Niger and the southern part of Algeria.But Libya is considered the final or the best receptor. In fact, the “market” that terrorists and warlords established in Libya affects a wide range of local and international interests. Entire villages and tribes and workers in the cities, all the way up to the corrupt bureaucracies and the international organised criminals, all survive from the “logistics” of that “market”. In other words, they live from the blood and suffering of other humans.

This is why it is an extremely difficult task to fight the criminal networks.

Until now, the EU has tried to discuss with the “leadership” of Libya – pretending to discuss with the leadership of an existing and operating state. But, in reality, it is not the “government” that decides in Libya. It will be interesting to see what will transpire from the discussions between the leaders of the EU, the African Union and the UN. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, they discussed “concrete, military and police actions on the ground to trace back these networks”.

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