EU Steps in to End 'Human Disaster' of Slave Auctions in Libya

The European Union, United Nations and African Union have agreed to an emergency plan to dismantle people-smuggling networks and repatriate stranded migrants, in an effort to ease a human rights disaster in Libya, officials said.

The remarks followed an investigation by CNN showing what appear to be migrants being sold off as slaves for as little as £300 ($400) on the outskirts of Tripoli.

The investigation sparked outrage internationally, prompting several leaders to condemn the practice and thousands of people to rally in several cities of the world. It forced the issue of abuse of African migrants heading for Europe to the top of the agenda of a summit meant to focus on Africa's youth.

European Council President Donald Tusk called the slavery reports "horrifying" during the opening ceremony of the African Union-European Union summit on Wednesday, 29 November.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who was on a three-day trip to West Africa in November, said the plan included the establishment of an "operational task-force" composed of European and African police and intelligence services.

"The goal will be in very short order to be able to arrest identified traffickers, dismantle these networks and their financing which goes through banks and payments that in the region contribute ... to sustaining terrorism," he said.

France would use its military presence in the region to help break up trafficking networks, but the plan would not involve sending French troops into Libya, Macron said at a press conference in Ghana on Thursday, November 30.

"On Libyan soil, it is now up to the Libyan government to decide in connection with the African Union," he said. "It is important to preserve the sovereignty of Libya."

The plan, the details of which emerged on November 30, came from a meeting of U.N. officials, EU leaders and government representatives from Chad, Niger, Morocco, Congo and Libya that was called by France the day before.

The EU, A.U. and U.N. agreed to freeze assets and impose financial sanctions against known smugglers.

Libya's government, which has promised to investigate reports of slave auctions, said it would grant U.N. agencies access to migrant camps in areas under its control, German officials said.

EU countries, meanwhile, will finance the repatriation of migrants from Libya, a process that is already being organized by the International Organization for Migration, they said.

Security analyst David Otto told Newsweek: "The goal of the EU is not necessarily focused on the anti-slavery campaign but on the anti-migration campaign that prevents migrants from entering Europe through the backdoor via key routes in Niger and Libya."

"Without a stable Libyan government, any measures to repatriate migrants back to Africa will not last long. Many European states are afraid of the high influx of migrants from Libya, they have failed to reach a consensus on how to bring various Libyan factions together to achieve a unity state, and in effect have a strong government that can police its boundaries like in the days of Late Ghadaffi," he continued.

Allowing Africans to come to Europe on a temporary basis for three of four years of training or schooling was also discussed, according to European government officials. "Circular migration" could be key to easing illegal migration, experts have said.

Regional governments have also agreed to educate Africans about the dangers of migration, and there will be stronger coordination between security services across North, West and Central Africa to eradicate smuggling.

Vulnerable migrants who might eventually qualify for asylum will be brought to Chad or Niger before being relocated to a third country either in Europe or another region.

Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at University of Kent, believes that the agreement is part of EU efforts to contain the influx of refugees and tackle human rights abuses related to the crisis.

"At a broad level, Europe has decided to try to do more to discourage migrants from leaving for Europe within their home states, and ensuring that as many of those who do leave for Europe but get caught in the refugee camps or slavery [are] returned to their home states. This intervention is part of that broader strategy," he told Newsweek.

"Across Europe, the top two issues for voters are immigration and terrorism, concerns that are reflected in the rise of populism. Put simply, Europe has to resolve this issue if it is to counter the rise of populism and political instability."

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EU and Libya

Earlier this year, a joint investigation by several NGOs revealed that thousands of migrants trying to reach Italy had been raped, tortured and kept as slaves in detention centers across Libya.

The investigation followed a February accord between Libya and Italy to curb the number of people crossing the Mediterranean. According to the agreement, Italy and the EU committed to providing funds and training to the Libyan Coast Guard to stop boats from reaching Italian shores.

At the time, the U.N. and human rights groups warned the agreement would endanger thousands of migrants who would be kept in "inhuman conditions" at illegal detention centers in Libya.

In November, U.N. Human Rights chief said the EU policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard turned an "already dire situation catastrophic".

In May, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said it was considering whether to open an investigation into alleged crimes against vulnerable migrants detained in Libya.