Migration through the Central Mediterranean Route

In 2017, CNN released alarming footage of migrants in Libya being auctioned off in what could only be described as a slave trade. The footage showed people being sold to work as diggers and other grueling labor-intensive jobs. This footage sparked an uproar within the international community, and it exposed the harsh realities that migrants, specifically sub-Saharan migrants, face on their way to reach Europe. The Central Mediterranean route is the most popular route for migrants trying to reach Europe. This route goes from North Africa, often Libya, into Europe. Most of the migrants on the Central Mediterranean route are either arriving from North Africa or have trekked across the Sahara from sub-Saharan Africa, sometimes paying smugglers to get them across the final step into Europe. However, as seen in the CNN footage, these smugglers systematically take advantage of migrants.

The amount of migrants entering Europe peaked in 2015, and since then the European Union has created policies directed at tackling the incoming wave of migrants. Currently, the IOM estimates that there are 704,142 migrants in Libya, 89% of them men and 11% women. The top five nationalities of these migrants were Nigerian, Egyptian, Chadian, Sudanese, and Ghanaian; these nationalities account for 66% of the total Libyan migrant population. The majority of these migrants are fleeing harsh economic conditions and conflict.
According to a 2018 IOM report, the total number of migrant arrivals in Italy has decreased from 4,531 to 4,256. At the same time, rescue and interception missions at sea have increased from 699 to 2,046. These changes reflect the results of policies that the European Union has introduced to reduce migration into Europe.

The Malta declaration of February 3rd, 2017 emphasized the need to tackle migration through Libya by working with Libyan authorities to stabilize the region. It states:

“Efforts to stabilize Libya are now more important than ever, and the EU will do its utmost to contribute to that objective. In Libya, capacity building is key for the authorities to acquire control over the land and sea borders and to combat transit and smuggling activities.”

This led the European Union to set up a 90 million euro fund directed at improving migration management in Libya. This consisted of initiatives such as expanding and improving Libya’s system of detention centers and assisting local governments. Additionally, the European Union set up a fund to help create jobs in Africa with the hope that Africans will not feel the need to migrate for employment opportunities.

However, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the European Union with regard to their work in Libya. Matteo de Bellis of Amnesty International says

“Through the donation of ships, the setting up of a Libyan search and rescue zone, and the construction of coordination centres, among other measures, European taxpayers’ money has been used to enhance the Libyan capacity to block people attempting to flee Libya and hold them in unlawful detention. And this was done with no conditions attached, even if such cooperation results in gross human rights violations like torture.”

Reports by Human Rights Watch reveal stories of torture and allegations of rape by guards at Libyan Detention centers.

“Instead, European Union (EU) migration cooperation with Libya is contributing to a cycle of extreme abuse. The EU is providing support to the Libyan Coast Guard to enable it to intercept migrants and asylum seekers at sea after which they take them back to Libya to arbitrary detention, where they face inhuman and degrading conditions and the risk of torture, sexual violence, extortion, and forced labor.”

Investigators for HRW visited four detention centers in Libya, documenting first-hand the shocking conditions:

“They documented inhumane conditions that included severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, poor quality food and water that has led to malnutrition, lack of adequate healthcare, and disturbing accounts of violence by guards, including beatings, whippings, and use of electric shocks.”

These reports by NGOs show that the European Union’s “cooperation” with Libya is not as cut-and-dry as it seems. More strategic solutions need to be sought in order to deal with the root causes of the recent mass migration into Europe. The current strategies being pursued by the EU, working with the Libyan government, have only taken refugees back to the ‘appalling’ conditions described above, far from solving the true problem.

Written By Aninwaa Anin-Yeboah, Innovation & Design Intern, Summer 2019

About the IIHA
The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) prepares current and future aid workers with the knowledge and skills needed to respond effectively in times of humanitarian crisis and disaster. Our courses are borne of an interdisciplinary curriculum that combines academic theory with the practical experience of seasoned humanitarian professionals. The IIHA also publishes on a wide range of humanitarian topics and regularly hosts a number of events in the New York area, including the annual Humanitarian Blockchain Summit and Design for Humanity Summit.

For media inquiries, please contact: Camille Giacovas, Communications & Research Officer, IIHA cgiacovas@fordham.edu

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