Just days after European Union ministers floated a proposal to rescue African migrants on the Mediterranean, the plan is already sinking amid a political impasse on the question of “sharing the burden” of the crisis. Meanwhile, thousands are facing death and torture on the perilous trail to Fortress Europe.
The proposed measures include expanding joint search-and-rescue patrols, establishing resettlement quotas, and sending military forces to Libya to keep migrants as far away as possible. But France, Spain, and the United Kingdom have rejected the idea of quotas for distributing migrants across member countries. The UK cites national sovereignty issues. Spain claims its high unemployment rate makes it unethical to accept migrants (though Italy, Greece, and Malta, which currently absorb the bulk of migrants, face similar or heavier social strains). Yet keeping borders sealed won’t truly deter anyone, because across the sea in Libya, there are no quotas, and no limit to the misery people endure as they seek refuge.
Drawing from recent testimonies of migrants from various African countries and within Libya, Amnesty International reports that the Mediterranean route is rife with “widespread abductions, torture, theft and physical assaults by criminal gangs and human smugglers.”
The smuggling trade across North Africa runs on a ferocious system of extortion. Many migrants are held hostage by criminal gangs or smugglers, who terrorize and demand thousands of dollars in ransom from their families back home. Migrants are sometimes “exploited and often held effectively as slaves—forced to work without pay, physically assaulted and robbed.”
Some migrants had been long-term residents of Libya but were displaced by the ongoing civil conflict following the fall of the Gaddafi regime. African migrant workers have suffered especially severe abuse, fueled by an explosion of underlying racism and xenophobia, along with a lack of migrants’ legal rights.
Christian migrants reportedly face “abductions, torture, theft and physical assaults by criminal gangs and people smugglers, in addition to abuses perpetrated by armed groups such as IS and Ansar al-Shari’a.”