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Libya slave trade: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

December 1, 2017

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The video footage of African migrants being sold as slaves in Libya has provoked outrage among Africans, non-Africans and within regional bodies and the international community. Coincidentally, migration is said to be one of the topical issues on agenda of this week’s fifth triennial African Union-European Union summit in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

On 18 March 2016, the EU-Turkey deal came into effect to stop the flow of irregular migration from Turkey to Europe. Similarly, with the aim of fighting illegal migration and human traffickers, financial support was offered to Libya’s UN-backed government. While these efforts have resulted shapely in the reduction of migrants on the shores of Europe, some human rights abuses have been reported at detention centres in Libya since 2009. For instance, Human Rights Watch reported since 2009 on the abuse of detained migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. Moreover, in July 2016, Human Rights Watch documented cases of physical and verbal abuse of intercepted migrants by Libyan coast guards. Watching video accounts of some of the 127 Ghanaian returnees showed the inhumane conditions and lack of basic services that migrants had to endure. Consequently, the issue came up in the Ghanaian parliament today with some concerns being raised on African identity and why young people choose to embark on irregular migration instead of staying at home.

In her remarks, the IOM Chief of Mission in Ghana also pointed out efforts aimed at reintegration that will address the social, economic and health needs of returnees. As Ghanaians and other Africans consider how to avoid repeating this, some critical questions need to be asked:

  1. Why do people move? Who moves? Is it the poor, working class or unemployed, etc.?
  2. What’s the intersection between structural inequalities, migration aspirations and opportunity structures?
  3. Will irregular migration reduce by addressing the root causes of migration? Meanwhile, legal pathways to migration for those with limited capital are limited or non-existent.
  4. What’s the future of migration from or within Africa considering demographic figures considering that sub-Saharan Africa’s population is projected to increase massively in the next decades?
  5. EU countries offer aid conditioned on border management instead stable governance structures and human rights. Will it reconsider this approach following the experience with Libya?

In trying to answer these, it will be interesting to under the age and gender dynamics. I hope to address these questions. Stay tuned.

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