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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Europe-Africa summit aims for evacuation of 3,800 migrants at risk of abuse

The drastic action was taken to protect those at risk of slavery

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker talks next to Guinea's President and President of the African Union Alpha Conde, European Council President Donald Tusk and African Union Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat during a news conference at the closing session of the 5th African Union - European Union Summit. EUTERS/Luc Gnago
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker talks next to Guinea's President and President of the African Union Alpha Conde, European Council President Donald Tusk and African Union Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat during a news conference at the closing session of the 5th African Union - European Union Summit. EUTERS/Luc Gnago

Leaders at an EU-Africa summit called Thursday for the immediate evacuation of nearly 4,000 distressed African migrants in Libya under a new drive to fight slave traders and traffickers.

Wrapping up a two-day summit in Ivory Coast's economic capital, a top African Union (AU) official said there could be as many as 700,000 Africans stranded in Libya, where many have suffered atrocities and even been sold into slavery.

He said a fact-finding mission had seen one camp in Tripoli where all the residents, numbering several thousand, were "living in inhumane conditions" and were desperate to return home.

"We have agreed, along with the EU and the UN, to set up a task force for repatriating at least 3,800 people," Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the AU Commission, told reporters.

"But it's just one camp... the Libyan government tells us that there are 42 in all. There are definitely more than that. There are estimates of 400,000 to 700,000 African migrants in Libya."

The summit, gathering more than 80 nations of the African Union and European Union (EU), had been showcased as a bid to boost development in Africa as it faces a population crunch.

But it was largely overshadowed by the shock TV footage aired two weeks ago by US network CNN of black Africans sold as slaves in Libya, prompting protests in many countries and demands for action.

Closing the summit, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara said the "inhumane treatment of migrants" required responses that "match our condemnation," including humanitarian aid, new efforts to fight human trafficking and solutions for the poverty that prompts many Africans to seek a better life in Europe.

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Read more: EU-African Union summit to debate alleged Libyan slave trading

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In a meeting late Wednesday, the leaders of Libya, France, Germany, Chad, Niger and four other countries agreed on a plan to allow migrants facing abuse in Libyan detention camps to be evacuated within days or weeks, mostly to their home countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who called the slave trading a crime against humanity, said Libya agreed to allow access to the camps "where scenes of barbarism" had occurred and have them repatriated.

They also offered increased support for the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to help those who want to return to their home countries, said Mr Macron, who called the emergency meeting.

In some cases they could be given asylum in Europe, he added.

To clamp down on the people traffickers in Libya, Macron called for African states to deploy police there, ruling out at least for the time being any French military involvement.

"It is up to African states to operate on their soil and carry out police operations relating to their sovereignty," Macron said in Ghana's capital Accra on the final leg of his trip.

EU sources earlier said UN humanitarian agencies like the IOM had arranged for some 13,000 migrants to return voluntarily to their home countries mainly in sub-Saharan Africa in the last year after a deal with Libya.

The uproar over slavery came after US network CNN two weeks earlier aired footage from Libya of black Africans being sold.

AU and other critics have accused the EU of creating conditions for the slave trade as well as rape and torture of migrants by encouraging Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA), which is UN-backed, to detain migrants and stop them from coming to Europe.

The EU, which said migrant abuses existed before its cooperation with Libya, has been desperate to ease the worst migration crisis since World War II, with more than 1.5 million migrants entering the bloc since 2015.

In his speech to the summit on Wednesday, European Council President Donald Tusk acknowledged the "horrifying" treatment of young Africans.

But he also warned against starting "a blame game" and called for cooperation to fight criminals.

The EU has already set up multi-billion-eurofunds to promote Africa's economic development while deepening counter-terrorism cooperation with African countries where Islamist militant groups are spreading.

The summit worked on ways to promote stability and long-term economic growth with Africa's population due to more than double to 2.4 billion people by 2050, prompting fears that millions could flee to Europe or turn to radical Islamist groups.

Annemarie Loof, who manages MSF’s work in Tripoli providing medical aid to refugees and migrants held arbitrarily in detention centres in the Libyan capital:

“There are no easy solutions nor any quick fixes. But I welcome any action that can alleviate the alarming level of exploitation and violence suffered by refugees and migrants stranded in Libya. However, Europe cannot express outrage at the crimes committed against refugees and migrants in Libya while at the same time continuing to pursue an overt policy of return and containment in that very same country. With Europe’s support, groups claiming to be the Libyan Coastguard are intercepting boats carrying refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in international waters and returning them to Libya, often under the eyes of EU military assets".