The rise of populism and anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe are fuelling human trafficking in Libya according to senior politicians and aid officials. Unable to cross the Mediterranean Sea, African migrants are now becoming stuck in Libya, where they are thrown into detention centers and sold into slavery.
“It is more difficult (for migrants) to leave Libya now…and the traffickers have to monetize their investments,” said U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) senior official Vincent Cochetel. “They sell people, they lease them, they rent them.”
Under Italian pressure, a major smuggling group in Libya agreed to curb its operations, which has resulted in significantly fewer migrants reaching Italian shores. The Libyan coastguard has also intercepted boats full of migrants at sea with support from the European Union.
Cochetel also blamed China for the migration surge as the inflatable dinghy boats used by migrants are bought from China and exported to Africa. He wants the EU to enforce its own ruling limiting the sale of these boats.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
About 140 East African migrants escaped from traffickers holding them captive near the Libyan town of Bani Walid last month, with several hospitalized due to torture during captivity or efforts to recapture them, the U.N. migration agency said.
“Several of these people were brought to detention centers when they should have been treated as victims of trafficking,” said Inma Vazquez, representative to the EU and NATO for global aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Pierre Vimont, a former head of the European Union’s foreign service, said the number of migrants trapped in Libya is likely to increase further as populism sweeps across Europe in countries including Italy, Austria and Germany.
In fact, this week Matteo Salvini, the new Italian interior minister, pledged that Italy would not be Europe’s “refugee camp,” and promised to reduce arrivals and deport African migrants.
Vimont added that he wants to see more done to stop Africans from trying to migrate to Europe in the first place.
“Europe is looking to push back this migration wave…to see how they can contain and push back migrants,” he said.