Libyan Migration And The EU’s ‘Policy Of Containment’


On Friday, CNN uncovered a video of Sudanese migrants kidnapped and tortured for ransom in Libya. The video showed victims being whipped while they begged their families to send money for their freedom.  After strong pressure from social media, Libyan Special Forces intervened and arrested four men found at the location and freed eight abductees. Many other unresolved incidents of extortion, enslavement, and torture of migrants traveling through Libya have also been reported.

Through a CNN investigation, money trails from the Libyan slave trade were found to link criminal gangs to a global network of transactions – drawing connections with countries as close as Niger and as far as Bangladesh. In an effort to mitigate these crimes, the European Union (EU) has made efforts to help the International Organization for Migration (IOM, a United Nations agency) to repatriate immigrants stuck in the northern African country and settle thousands of Libyan immigrants already in Europe. However, it is unclear how repatriation will decrease the need for emigration from Sub-Saharan Africa, and the subsequent result of migrants resorting to high-risk and illegal methods of migration.

Many migrants find that their only passage to the shores of Italy – and Europe in general – is from off the coast of Libya. They spend their life savings on paying smugglers for the passage. In this context, Amnesty International (AI) calls the EU’s ‘policy of containment’ as preventing the flow of migration, sending migrants to detainment camps within Libya, which, according to AI, consist of around 20,000 from Sub-Saharan Africa. Detainees are then subject to limited and inconsistent meals, are often denied access to bathrooms and showers, and are even forced to sleep on the ground (while also running a daily risk of being kidnapped and tortured with small hope for freedom). EU member-states, particularly Italy, help fund Libya’s coastguard to intercept smuggled migrants at sea, and give additional assistance to Libya’s Department for Combating Illegal Migration in order to detain them. While being detained, migrants are exposed to organized crime and systematic violations of human rights at the hands of their own authorities via torture, extortion, and slavery. According to CNN, some detainees and migrants are kidnapped and sold into the Libyan slave trade for as little as $400 USD.

The EU denies that it has had a negative impact on the current migration crisis in Libya, mainly due to its efforts to repatriate those in detainment camps back to their home countries. Moreover, the EU intends to send home 15,000 of the 20,000 currently detained. However, as post-colonial Africa struggles with war and attempts to find peace despite the implementation of democracy, individuals and families alike are desperate to leave their homelands to find a better life in Europe. Securing the borders of Libya and increasing efforts to detain and repatriate smuggled migrants ignores the origin of this conflict, and the consequences of denying migrants’ rights. Preventing migration in Libya is seen by non-government organizations and human rights activists as a serious humanitarian issue. John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme, states that “European governments must rethink their cooperation with Libya on migration and enable people to get to Europe through legal pathways, including by resettling tens of thousands of refugees.” If Libya were to formally recognize the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) mandate, sign the Refugee Convention, and adopt asylum law, migrants and refugees could have higher hopes for escaping the atrocities and corruption that surround them.