SHOCKING videos and photos of African men and women being held in dehumanising conditions or being auctioned off as farm workers in Libya have compelled the African Union-European Union summit taking place in Ivory Coast, to devise an urgent evacuation plan for migrants being held in detention camps.
Sources at the summit said nine countries, including Libya, France, Germany, Chad and Niger had agreed that an extreme emergency operation should be carried out as soon as possible.
Nigeria, which is one of the African countries with citizens being held in Libya had already made a unilateral move to repatriate Nigerian migrants from Libya. Sources said 240 Nigerians were voluntarily flown home on Tuesday night.
French President Emmanuel Macron who is in Abidjan called the slave auctions a “crime against humanity”.
Furthermore, Macron said: “This work will be carried out in the next few days” in co-ordination with the countries of origin. He added that the migrants will be sent mainly back to their home countries, while particularly at-risk migrants could be given asylum in Europe.
The evacuation plan also has the backing of the United Nations which has pledged to “step up its work” to stop the slave trade happening.
During a special UN meeting in New York yesterday, William Lacy Swing, director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said: “This is an enormous human tragedy and we can stop it.”
The UK government, which is represented by Foreign Minister Boris Johnson in Abidjan has been prompted to take action by thousands of people who have signed a petition calling for its active participation.
Hundreds of thousands of African migrants have been crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean trying to find jobs in Europe, for many years.
Thousands have lost their lives in the vast Sahara desert but most of those who reach Libya find themselves subjected modern-day slave traders who sell them off as farm labourers, for as little as US$400.
Many migrants sent back home from Libya have related stories of rape, beatings and other brutal treatment at the hands of their Libyan captors.
In an interview with BBC World Service last week, Jerome, a 22 year old Ivorian said he was one of 150 migrants returned to the Ivory Coast after trying to make his way to France. “The people who act as human traffickers said they could take us to Europe. When we met with them, it was a false promise. They said they would take us to a place to rest, but when we arrived there, we realised we had been sold to a Libyan rebel chief.”
A CNN video footage broadcast in mid-November, showing slave auctions in Libya caused international outrage and calls on Libya’s UN-backed administration to investigate.
Although Libya had reiterated its agreement “to identify the camps where barbaric scenes have been identified”, political analysts are sceptical about how much Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj’s government, which has only limited control over the country’s territory, can do to stop the practice of slavery across the country.
“The plan to evacuate African migrants from Libya is a welcome move indeed,” said a political analyst based in Nigeria. “And it is good that the Libyan government has agreed to give the International Organisation for Migration access to the camps where migrants are kept. However, the critical point to consider is that large swathes of Libyan are under the control of militias and gangsters who are making vast amounts of money in all sorts of rackets. My fear is that any African migrants in militia controlled territories is beyond reach, as things stand.”
According to EU sources humanitarian organisations, including the IOM, repatriated around 13,000 African migrants, mainly to sub-Saharan Africa in 2016.