Migration of immigrants from Africa across the Mediterranean sea has been a problem for many consecutive years. Most of these immigrants travel through Libya, one of the easiest but also most dangerous routes to reach the sea. Because of this, Libya has been trying to stem the flow of immigrants through their country. Libya stops boats crossing the Mediterranean sea with aid from European nations to prevent migrants from making the journey to European countries. Their justification is that this saves the lives of people attempting to make this dangerous crossing. But once turned back, the immigrants are locked up in overcrowded Libyan prisons.
These prisons will be getting a new influx of people soon, as better weather in the spring and summer sees an increase in the number of migrants attempting the dangerous sea route.
Libya itself is an unstable country. According to the Huffington Post, Libya became “a human trafficking hub” after the overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi in 2011. According to 2016’s Fragile States Index, Libya is one of the more dangerous countries in Africa at an alert level. This exacerbates Europe’s problems since international law prohibits sending people back to countries where they might be in danger. Most immigrants are coming from countries even more dangerous and unstable than Libya. In 2016, the EU began to train the Libyan coast guard and navy to combat the migrant smuggling problem. But, as mentioned, once immigrants are stopped in Libya, they are often locked up in Libyan prisons or taken by non-government armed militias and used for slave labor or sold into the slave trade. The lucky few are locked up in makeshift detention centres, often in worse conditions than those in official Libyan prisons.
According to the Huffington Post, “Libya locks up undocumented migrants in a network of some 20 immigrant detention centres, where inmates report being coerced into hard labor, beaten by guards, and cramped into tiny cells with little food or water and barely any ventilation or sanitation.” These conditions violate international human rights codes set by the UN, which has cited Libya for its inhumane prison conditions.
The question, of course, is how to solve this problem. As for the problem of the migration of immigrants over the dangerous Mediterranean route, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has implemented a partial solution. According to the Huffington Post, the IOM set up a “voluntary repatriation program” in 2016 to fund migrants returning home and finding work in the countries they recently escaped. Since July 2014, the IOM has helped repatriate 2,469 stranded migrants in Libya. In their article “Libya is Saving Migrants at Sea Only to Trap Them In Dire Conditions on Land,” they cite Othman Belbeisi, IOM’s top official in Libya. Belbeisi acknowledged that“It’s not an easy decision to go back home. The situation is so hard, after you lose your hope, your money and end up in detention.” This program, while not solving the problems that immigrants are running from back in their native countries, does also assist in releasing those locked in government controlled Libyan prisons. It allows them an escape from their inhumane conditions. But with all of the help the IOM provides those who choose this program, the only option for these imprisoned immigrants should not be to return to their unstable and unsafe home countries.
The Libyan government itself must also develop a program to allow these immigrants to reside in Libya. The work they do now with their navy only exacerbates their prison problem, despite the good effect it has on reducing the number of people attempting the crossing.
At best, the EU could allow in more immigrants from war-torn countries in Africa. This solution would necessitate finding a less dangerous path for immigrants out of Africa and into Europe, one that bypassed Libya’s instability if possible.