Facing Slavery and Migration: EU-AU Summit Ponders How to Move Forward

Written by | Thursday, January 4th, 2018

During the EU-Africa summit in late November, leaders of both continents agreed that young people are going to be the key force behind future development of Africa. Demographic growth will be one of the main challenges for Africa in the coming years, with its population forecasted to double by 2050. Despite the urgency of the population changes, leaders did not agree on any mid-term or long-term measures to address the issue.

Instead of the intended focus on African demographics, the summit was overshadowed by recent evidence of human trafficking and the allegations of slavery practices in Libya. To address this issue, African, European and Libyan leaders agreed to create an EU-AU-UN Task Force in Libya including voluntary evacuation of irregular migrants, the facilitation of migrants’ repatriation and the resettlement of those in need of international protection. The Task Force will also step up efforts to dismantle transnational traffickers and criminal networks, accompanied by information campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers.

The establishment of the Task Force is a major achievement and a concrete step to fight human trafficking and slavery. Migrants have gotten to the forefront of exploitation and it has become as profitable to keep migrants captive as it is to send them on vessels heading for Europe. Despite the successful creation of the Task Force, its actual work is up against a complex set of challenges. Libya’s many armed groups make it very complicated to intervene against human trafficking, but without having these groups “on board”, it is likewise very complicated to achieve anything at all.

On the positive side, armed groups are trying to gain international legitimacy and fighting smuggling and trafficking could help them to achieve this goal. On the negative side, working with the local armed groups might exacerbate existing conflict lines, which could create an even more dangerous environment for both migrants and Libyans. The Summit came at a time of polarization in Europe and while the EU is trying to prevent illegal migrants from coming to Europe, African leaders want more legal opportunities for Africans to come to Europe. The gathering served as a platform for dialogue and helped European and African leaders to find a common ground.

Despite this reconciliation, the question remains whether the EU’s self-interest of stopping migration is compatible with African development. Most importantly, future migration policies should be based on a greater understanding between transnational irregular migration, political institutions and greater governance dynamics in order to draft politically sensitive policies that target irregular migration without contributing to one of the root causes. At the same time, these policies can only be implemented in a sustainable way if policy makers understand and take into consideration how proposed measures could influence the responsiveness of the state and the potential dynamics of conflict. It is time to implement a more holistic and conflict-sensitive strategy of migration management in which migration is seen only as one of the many challenges facing the continent.

‘The EU-AU’s Response to Slavery and Migration: A Way Forward?’ – Opinion by Fransje Molenaar, Anca-Elena Ursu & Floor El Kamouni-Janssen – Clingendael / Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

(The Opinion can be downloaded here)


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