What is the Solution to Libya’s Migrant and Refugee Problem?

Human rights are not being upheld for migrants and refugees in Libya, with migrants alleging that they are tortured and kept in unsanitary conditions.

On July 3, airstrikes on the well-known Tajoura Detention Centre in the country’s capital city, Tripoli, killed more than 53 refugees and migrants (including six children) and injured more than 300.

There are currently 800,000 migrants and 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. 5600 of these migrants are presently being “arbitrarily detained”.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has condemned Libya’s treatment of migrants and refugees – in particular, Libya’s detention of refugees and migrants disembarked on its shores, after being rescued at sea.

In a statement released on July 11, the UNHCR said: “practical alternatives exist [to detention]: people should be allowed to live in the community or in open centres. Semi-open safe centres can be established similar to UNHCR’s Gathering and Departure Facility.”

“Every effort should be taken to prevent people rescued on the Mediterranean from being disembarked in Libya, which cannot be considered a safe port. In the past, European State vessels conducting search and rescue operations saved thousands of lives, including through disembarkations in safe ports,” the statement continued.

The UNHCR concluded the statement by calling for EU countries to offer help to Libya on the sole condition that migrants and refugees rescued are guaranteed human rights, and are not arbitrarily detained.

What Created the Migrant Crisis?

Libya has “the largest flow of modern African migration funnels through a single country.” Migrants and refugees come from the poverty-rife Sub-Sahara, the war-torn East, where citizens are forced into a lifetime of military service and conflict, and the West, rife with despot-led, authoritarian nations.

Human traffickers operate through Libya, offering to cross migrants and refugees from all over Africa and the Middle East into Italy for a large sum of money. Many migrants wait months and years before they are able to pay smugglers for the trip.

At the heart of Libya’s migrant crisis is the problem of colonialism and the postcolonial fear of Western emasculation.

Promising to keep immigrants out in 2008, President Muammar Gaddafi was paid $500 million by the European Union. Before he was toppled, Gaddafi would receive €20 million in EU funding to keep migrants out of the EU, especially Italy.

In 2010, Gaddafi, who had close business and political ties with the Italy’s then-Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, demanded a €5bn per annum fee from the EU to keep migrants out of the continent.

“Europe runs the risk of turning black from illegal immigration,” he said. “It could turn into Africa.”

Migration, although a neutral word, is now imbued with a lot of negative connotations. The migrant is often from a poor, broken, militarised country, and is often seeking to escape to the gold-paved streets of Europe (and the West). Migrants from Europe, on the other hand, often refer to themselves as “ex-pats”, a shortened form of expatriates.

The story of Libya’s migrants is foregrounded in the 1960s. Revolutions and protests in the US, UK and France are often hailed as protests that shook the status quo. This is the story told in the West. In South America, Africa, and the Middle East, however, revolution meant a move from colonialism to postcolonialism.

US and European foreign policy in the decades following World War Two aimed to conquer the rest of the world under Western rule. This began a new era of domination under postcolonialism and neocolonialism. Although the rest of the world gained colonial independence, it found itself still indebted to the West.

Independence from Europe meant that Africa was left with a financial deficit from centuries of brutal colonialism, during which time Europe enriched itself off the work and the resources of the Africans it colonised. Post-independence, Africa remained indebted to Europe, as it struggled to find its feet as a continent moulded, crippled, and then abandoned by Europe. The continent was forced to borrow money from the West to survive.

Decades of war (many caused by the divisions created by European colonisers), corruption from African leaders, poverty, and continued interference by the West has left many areas of the continent destitute

The migrant crisis is a colonial crisis which began when Europe forced the idea of international borders unto Africa. Borders, created to keep people out, are now successfully used by Europe to keep out Africa – but not its wealth. Borders make sure that the wealth of the Empire, hoarded into Europe, does not find its way back to its original owners. Until world leaders adopt humanitarianism over capitalist and political domination, our global economic and political system will continue to create migrant crises.