Libyan Coast Guard members in Valetta, Malta, after completing training intended to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe. Photo Credit: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times.

Can E.U. Shift Migrant Crisis to the Source? In Libya, the Odds Are Long

Article in The New York Times
27 February, 2017

“The plan is to give money, resources and training to the Libyans to keep the migrants there, an idea somewhat similar to the European Union’s deal with Turkey, only this one is with a country run by competing militias and multiple weak governments.

It is not the first time Italy has forged an agreement with Libya to stem the flow of migration. But the most effective attempt was before Libya descended into chaos with the collapse of its government in 2011.”

Ominous signs from the EU. What is called “the source” here is Libya. How can this be described as a source, when the vast majority of migrants coming to Europe from Libya aren’t Libyans, but sub-Saharan Africans? What is manifestly meant by “the source” is Africa. How can training Libyan border guards be called shifting the “migration crisis to the source”? How can blocking migrants in Libya, where violence against migrants is rife and migrant detention centres are described as hellholes, be considered a principled response to people fleeing political violence and endemic poverty?

The political panic in Europe seems to drive EU politicians to set aside human rights concerns in favour of “practical” solutions to “their problem”, i.e. how to effectively reduce the number of migrants arriving in Europe, at whatever cost. These politicians know full well that increasing the repression against undocumented migrants will entrench smuggling rings and increase their hold on vulnerable migrants, as well as continue to fuel underground labour markets in Europe where migrant workers are exploited by unscrupulous recruiters and employers who prey on their fear of being detected, detained and deported. Repression of undocumented migration drives up the price of travel and actually funds smuggling rings.

What is needed is easier mobility to and from Europe, i.e. implementing accessible visa programmes at all skill levels, even to come and look for work, and increasing visa liberalisation and visa facilitation programs, as the EU already does on a small scale. Taking over the mobility market from the smugglers is the only strategy which can drive them out of the picture, by reducing their source of income. Rooting out underground labour markets and migrant worker exploitation through repression of unscrupulous employers and efficient labour inspections is also part of a forward-looking mobility solution.

One cannot argue that mobility will be increased as soon as “we have regained control of our borders”, as this is not going to happen unless Europeans collectively decide to use utter violations of human rights. And even then, it may not happen: as the Libyan example shows, blatant human rights violations in Libya haven’t deterred hundreds of thousands of migrants to use the Libyan route on their way to Europe.

Repression reduces the number of migrants temporarily, but it compounds the problems and delays effective solutions. It cannot be a strategically planned and principled response to the mobility needs in Africa and Middle-East (providing a future for the family) and Europe (labour market needs).

To read the full article in the NY Times, please click here

Share this: