By Peter Olorunnisomo – At the African Union/European Union meeting of Heads of Governments in Abidjan, the issue of mitigating migrants from Africa and the abuse of human lives has taken centre stage. On one of the levels of fora, it was given that Europe and Africa have joint responsibility for making migration more humane and orderly so they can end horrifying abuses being committed against African migrants by people smugglers as noted by European Council President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday.
He was speaking at the two-day Africa-European Union summit that was meant to focus on development and investment in youth which now has been overshadowed by the depth of concern that the migrant crisis occasioned.
Recent reports of white Libyan slave traders selling black African migrants at markets in Libya re-echoed grimly the horrors of the trans-Saharan slave trade in centuries past. White Libyans are said to have been selling black Africans for as much as $400.
The outcry impacted on the agenda and migration took top spot of the summit agenda and the implications on the thorny issue for European leaders face with a surge in far-right, anti-immigration parties at home.
“It is clear that migration is a joint responsibility. It is in all our interests to have orderly migration that is more controlled, more humane and sustainable,” Tusk said in his opening remarks.
“The recent reports about the treatment of Africans – especially young people – by smugglers and traffickers are horrifying,” he said, adding that 5,000 migrants had drowned in the Mediterranean last year.
Soon after CNN aired grainy images from Libya this month appearing to show migrants being sold as slaves, African governments began recalling diplomats from Tripoli.
Protests erupted in France, Senegal and Benin. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara called for Libyan slave traders to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
“Let’s work together to bring more humane solutions to this migration crisis that taints relations between the North and the South,” said Guinea’s president, Alpha Conde, the chairman of the African Union.
Though Libya has promised to investigate the reports, many African citizens also blame European policies for abuses along the migrant trail.
“The worst we can do is to start the blame game. What we need now are common solutions and stronger cooperation to save lives, protect people,” Tusk said. “Our common duty is to step up the fight against these unscrupulous criminals.”
But European leaders – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who head the Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU – are hamstrung by electorates that are increasingly anti-immigration.
Despite pressure at home, Merkel on Wednesday highlighted the need to create legal avenues for migration.
However, Gunter Nooke, her special envoy for Africa, later told Reuters that alone would not solve the problem. “There we talk about thousands, tens of thousands. But with (illegal) migration we talk about millions.”
He added that no country is going to allow hundreds of thousands of students in from developing nations unless they can be sure most will go back within four years, which he said rarely happened.
In a joint statement, the United Nations, African Union and European Union announced the creation of a joint task force “to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya,” and to speed up returning migrants to countries of origin.
“We must not only denounce it, we must act, by collectively attacking these smuggling networks,” Macron, who has called the abuses in Libya a crime against humanity, said at the meeting.
“We are going to … to carry out targeted sanctions.”
Consequently, the African Union (AU), European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) have decided to put in place a task force in Libya to check migrant abuse in the north African country.
This was agreed when AU’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, its foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met on Wednesday morning at the summit in Abidjan.
A joint, press release stated that said the EU-AU-UN Task Force aim “to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya, accelerating the assisted voluntary returns to countries of origin, and the resettlement of those in need of international protection.
“This action will build on, expand and accelerate the ongoing work done by countries of origin, and the IOM, with EU funding, which allowed so far the voluntary return to their countries of origin of 13 000 migrants since January,” it added.
The work of the task force will be coordinated with the ‘recognised’ Libyan authorities with the focus of dismantling trafficking and criminal networks. It will also seek to help countries of origin and transit for migrants to tackle the root causes of migration via development opportunities and stability.
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