European and African leaders met late on Wednesday (29 November) to discuss the allegations of slavery in Libya and the issues around the migrant crisis. Reports from earlier this month of white Libyan slave traders selling back migrants at markets in the country that are a grim reminder of the trans-Saharan slave trade in past centuries have triggered horror around the world.
The reaction to the allegations put migration into the spotlight at the two-day Africa-EU Summit, which normally deals with development and investment, and pointed out again the urgency and delicacy of the migration issue. “It is clear that migration is a joint responsibility. It is in all our interests to have orderly migration that is more controlled, more humane and sustainable,” European Council President Donald Tusk said in his opening remarks. “The recent reports about the treatment of Africans – especially young people – by smugglers and traffickers are horrifying,” he said.
Protests erupted in France, Senegal and Benin, with Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara calling for Libyan slave traders to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court. Libya has pledged to investigate the allegations, but many Africans blame European policies for abuses along the migrant trail. Despite anti-migration pressures in many European countries, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the EU needed to create legal avenues for migration. However, Gunter Nooke, her special envoy on Africa later said that even legal avenues would not solve the problem since there we would talk about thousands or tens of thousands while “with (illegal) migration we talk about millions)”.
The Africa-EU Summit ended up with a joint statement by the United Nations, African Union and European Union announcing the creation of a joint task force “to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya,” and to speed up returning migrants to countries of origin.