Mi­gra­tion: mili­tias in Libya key

Drop in EU cross­ings, abuse rife

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - MEL FRYKBERG

THE abuse of African mi­grants and refugees in Libyan de­ten­tion cen­tres and the high num­bers of refugees who con­tinue to drown at sea as they try the per­ilous cross­ing across the Mediterranean from the North African coun­try to Europe con­tinue to make head­lines and pro­voke in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

The rel­a­tively good news is that there has been a de­cline in the num­ber of at­tempted cross­ings across the Mediterranean and the United Na­tions and some African states are step­ping in to repa­tri­ate mi­grants from Tripoli.

How­ever, fu­ture de­vel­op­ments de­pend strongly on the be­hav­iour of Libya’s no­to­ri­ously in­flu­en­tial mili­tias. They have a his­tory of re­ly­ing on hu­man traf­fick­ing and other il­licit busi­ness deal­ings for their in­come – as well as the in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of both Libya and Italy.

Over the past few days an­other 50 peo­ple, mostly African mi­grants, were re­ported drowned, and an­other 100 miss­ing, fol­low­ing a ship­wreck off the Libyan coast, about 100km east of the cap­i­tal Tripoli – the lat­est of many such tragedies.

On Sun­day, the Libyan navy said it had res­cued 272 mi­grants try­ing to reach south­ern Europe.

The UN’s In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Mi­gra­tion es­ti­mated that over 171 300 mi­grants en­tered Europe last year, com­pared to a lit­tle over 363 500 in 2016.

A down-tick in the num­ber of Africans try­ing to reach Europe fol­lowed the Fe­bru­ary 2017 Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing be­tween Italy and Libya’s UN-sanc­tioned Gov­ern­ment of National Ac­cord.

“Rome pledged train­ing, equip­ment and in­vest­ment to help the Tripoli gov­ern­ment im­prove bor­der se­cu­rity and com­bat the smug­gling of peo­ple.

“It en­gaged lo­cal gov­ern­ment in smug­gling hubs, promis­ing in­vest­ment in re­turn for help with mi­gra­tion con­trol,” an ar­ti­cle by Mark Mi­callef and Tues­day Rei­tano, from the Global Ini­tia­tive against Transna­tional Or­gan­ised Crime, and Se­nior Re­search Con­sul­tants at Pre­to­ria’s In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies (ISS) stated.

Italy, which has borne the brunt of the refugee bur­den, needed to take po­lit­i­cal ac­tion to pre­vent a back­lash by its elec­torate as re­turn­ing the mi­grants to Libya was not an op­tion after it was de­clared un­law­ful by the European Court of Hu­man Rights in 2012. Italy’s po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions have tied in with the am­bi­tions of the var­i­ous Libyan mili­tias con­trol­ling large swathes of the coun­try in the ab­sence of one cen­tral func­tion­ing gov­ern­ment.

After the fall of Libyan leader Muam­mar Gaddafi, mili­tias cre­ated a pro­tec­tion mar­ket around hu­man smug­gling and, in some cases, took over the busi­ness, said Mi­callef and Rei­tano. “The in­dus­try is in­ter­de­pen­dent with other il­licit trade as mili­tias and smug­gling king­pins ex­ploit the full smor­gas­bord of smug­gling mar­kets, from fuel, to peo­ple, drugs and weapons.

“How­ever, after threats of In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in­dict­ments, there is no greater li­a­bil­ity than be­ing la­belled a hu­man smug­gler or ter­ror­ist. Mili­tia lead­ers want to be on the right side of im­por­tant bro­kers and donors and they found an op­por­tu­nity in Italy’s mi­grant cri­sis,” stated Mi­callef and Rei­tano.

But rights groups fear the mea­sures could also leave tens of thou­sands of mi­grants stranded in restive Libya. Sur­vivors have re­counted starv­ing in Libyan de­ten­tion cen­tres and other abuses.

Large parts of the coast­guard, de­ten­tion cen­tres, and other key branches of the frag­ile Libyan state’s se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus are run or con­trolled by mili­tias, some deeply in­volved in the smug­gling econ­omy. And there are other prob­lems. “Libya lacks a cen­tral gov­ern­ment to claim con­trol over the cap­i­tal, let alone the whole coun­try and its bor­ders. The coun­try is po­lit­i­cally di­vided, and the func­tions of the mil­i­tary, po­lice, coast­guard and cus­toms are largely pro­vided by a shift­ing spec­trum of mili­tia groups,” the ISS con­sul­tants said.

“The role of mili­tias in de­rail­ing the peace process is well doc­u­mented. Com­mu­ni­ties, armed groups and tribes that felt marginalised or in­suf­fi­ciently re­warded in the po­lit­i­cal process have been es­pe­cially mo­ti­vated to turn to the il­licit econ­omy,” they stated.

“Cut­ting off the sea cross­ing risks wors­en­ing the mis­treat­ment of mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers, as smug­glers find al­ter­na­tive ways to mon­e­tise their in­vest­ment.

“There­fore, mili­tias must not be al­lowed to rein­vent them­selves in a new cloak of le­git­i­macy while for­giv­ing past trans­gres­sions.

“Rather, the cur­rent cli­mate should be ex­ploited to achieve true dis­ar­ma­ment, de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion and rein­te­gra­tion into a planned and man­aged national se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.”


Mi­grants in a boat ar­rive at a naval base after they were res­cued by Libyan coast guards, in Tripoli, Libya, this week.

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