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When the world united against modern slavery
The 5th African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit held last week in Côte d’Ivoire’s capital, Abidjan, led to the formation of a joint task force (AU-EU-UN) to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the migratory routes and Libya in particular. It would address ways of accelerating the assisted voluntary return of migrants to their home countries and the resettlement of those in need of international protection.
The plight of African migrants described as slave markets in Libya by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was a major issue tackled at the 5th AU-EU summit.
African Union-European Union Summit took place on November 29-30 under the overarching theme of Youth. It brought together leaders from 55 African Union and 28 European Union member-states, among whom were Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and the EU’s High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini.
The meeting, which aimed at defining the future direction for cooperation between the two continents, also adopted a joint declaration outlining common priorities for the EU-Africa partnership in four strategies – economic opportunities for youth, peace and security, mobility and migration, and cooperation on governance.
“The European Union is Africa’s biggest partner and closest neighbour. Its biggest investor, its biggest trading partner, its biggest provider of development aid and humanitarian assistance as well as its biggest contributor in peace and security. And this summit demonstrated our determination to reinforce our partnership even more,” said Donald Franciszek Tusk, president, European Council.
The two-day gathering was of the view to stem the biggest wave of asylum seekers since World War II, as more people arrive by sea from African countries this year than from war-torn Syria. Anxiety over migration stoked populism in Europe and drove electoral gains by far-right parties from France to Hungary.
The slavery controversy is an intense and extreme manifestation of the wider problem of illegal migration which has troubled the relations between the two continents for the last few years.
“For the Europeans, it’s a priority because it’s also a domestic political issue and their electorate is very sensitive to this question,” said Gilles Yabi, head of Policy Group Wathi in Senegal’s capital, Dakar.
CNN, in a recorded footage earlier this month, drew the attention of the world to the issue of migrants and refugees stuck in Libya and being sold into slavery for $400 as farm labourers at a night-time auction in Libya.
“Libya has become the epicentre of this issue because the country fell into chaos and lawlessness after President Muammar Gaddafi was toppled by rebels – with the help of Nato-led military forces,” said an activist.
“Since then the country has become a launching pad for tens of thousands of Africans to attempt the crossing to Europe across the Mediterranean, often in unseaworthy boats. Thousands have drowned,” said the activist.
“The combination of Libya’s splintered government in the wake of Muammar Gaddafi’s fall and the influx of people from Nigeria has led to a situation where stranded men and women are being held against their will and, in some cases, sold into slavery or prostitution,” he said.
Leonard Doyle of the International Organization for Migration, “As shocking as it seems, it’s indeed true. The reason (the slave trade) can happen is because there is really no rule of law across much of Libya.”
Each year for the past three years, more than 150,000 migrants and refugees have crossed into Europe from Libya in hopes of making their way to a new life. It’s a treacherous journey. More than 3,000 people have drowned each of the past four years trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
Officials from Nigeria have been working with the International Organization for Migration and told CNN that a total of 5,000 Nigerians have come back from Libya in the past year, with nearly 250 returning on Wednesday.
The task force formed by both continents and the UN would build on expanding and accelerating the ongoing work done by countries of origin and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a UN agency, with EU funding, which had enabled the voluntary return to their countries of origin of 13,000 migrants since January.
“The work of the Task Force will be closely coordinated with the Libyan authorities and be part of the overall joint work that the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations will intensify to dismantle traffickers and criminal networks and to offer opportunities of development and stability to countries of origin and transit, tackling root causes of migration,” the AU said.
“The United Nations, the African Union and the European Union agreed to upgrade in a systematic manner their trilateral co-operation and to meet on a regular basis at the highest political level, notably in the margins of the UN General Assembly,” it said.
European Commission President Juncker said the summit spoke a lot about young people.
“Already today, the majority of African citizens are under 25 years old, and by the middle of this century, one in four people on earth will be African. But this demographic dividend cannot deliver without smart investments,” Juncker said.
“This is precisely why we are going to put our investments in education, in infrastructure, in peace and security, as well as in good governance – all of which will in turn inspire good business environments and create much needed jobs and growth.”
Africa will only persuade its young people to stay if there are prospects for economic development on the continent, Moussa Faki Mahamat, president of the African Union Commission, told Radio France Internationale recently.
However, the British government on Friday said the hundreds of thousands of people who have survived modern slavery or risk becoming enslaved in nations including Bangladesh, Nepal and Nigeria will receive support through a £40 million ($54 million) aid package.
Half of the money will be split between tackling forced labour among women migrant workers from South Asia and cracking down on human trafficking from Nigeria, often of women and girls into sex slavery, said Britain’s foreign aid department (DFID).
The rest will go to the US-based Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, a public-private partnership seeking $1.5 billion to combat the crime globally by targeting problem sectors from the garment industry to fisheries and construction.
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