Libya has become a vortex of human suffering، sucking in thousands of desperate migrants. They cross the Sahara to escape war، terrorism and destitution. Upon arrival many are held hostage by traffickers and starved، beaten and tortured. Now comes yet another level of horror، with the revelation that some are being publicly sold as slaves، according to reports by the International Organization for Migration documented this past weekend. None of this would be possible if not for the political chaos in Libya since the civil war in 2011، when — with the involvement of a NATO coalition that included the United States — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was toppled. Migrants have become the gold that finances Libya’s warring factions.
Dismantling the country’s human trafficking industry is one goal of a 90 million-euro ($95 million) program adopted by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa on Wednesday. For African migrants in Libya، help cannot come soon enough. Of course، Europe’s primary goal is to stanch the flow of migrants to Europe، where anti-immigrant populism is on the rise. To that end، the E.U. is training the Libyan Coast Guard to rescue migrants at sea for return to Libya، where the International Organization for Migration، agencies of the United Nations and the German Corporation for International Cooperation are to work with Libyan authorities to improve conditions in government-run detention centers. People will be allowed to apply for asylum in Europe from those centers. This sounds like a win-win situation، in which Europe will be able to reduce the flow of people it does not want، the role of human traffickers will be reduced، conditions for migrants in Libya will improve and fewer will drown at sea. But، given the political chaos in Libya and the powerful forces that are driving Africans to cross the Sahara، this rosy scenario is far from assured.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson voiced support for a Group of 7 statement on Monday calling for swift political reconciliation in Libya. If the United States is sincere about helping، it should step back from the administration’s proposal to cut aid to Africa. The United Nation-sponsored Libyan government of Fayez Serraj also needs to do its part in what must be a joint effort by concerned countries that places the welfare of African migrants foremost.