ABIDJAN - Fayez Serraj, head of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), flew to Abidjan on Thursday where he, quite unexpectedly, delivered a good speech to assure his African and European counterparts that his government is thoroughly looking into the slave trade allegations.
“I would like to point out that what was published and circulated in some media reports on the allegations concerning the enslavement and exploitation of migrants is being investigated by the competent authorities in Libya,” Mr Serraj told the fifth African Union-European Union summit. “As we express our rejection and denunciation of such inhumane practices which are contrary to the culture, heritage and values of the Libyan people, if it is proven, we affirm that our country is a victim and not a sponsor of these negative phenomena. Such as many countries, irregularities may occur due to the security conditions of Libya and its borders and the borders of the countries of origin and transit, despite our repeated requests in many regional and international events seeking for support to secure the borders,” he added.
The Libyan president proceeded by reminding the summit that over two million African workers used to work and live legally in his country before the war of 2011. “Those [migrants] who are now entering the country illegally are doing so unsafely beyond the eyes of the Libyan state. They put their fate in the hands of the international and local gangs that are smuggling them and trafficking them while the Libyan state tries to save and protect them with a few possibilities and less armament”.
As he glanced at delegates of Libya’s European partners, the Libyan premier affirmed: “The issue of illegal immigration worries us as much as it does to all of you. Our partners are aware of the extent of our efforts and cooperation to save human lives and alleviate the suffering of them, and what limits our ability are the political, security and economic conditions. We, therefore, are looking forward to your cooperation to restore stability to our country. The stability of Libya with its resources and capabilities would enable it to face smuggling gangs, secure its borders and provide jobs for hundreds of thousands, whether from Africa or elsewhere”.
Over half a million illegal migrants are currently living in Libya, announced Mr Serraj, of whom, he says, only 20,000 (4 percent) are staying at his government’s 42 accommodation centres. “The rest have been absorbed by the labour market despite the difficult conditions of the country, and most of them decided to head to Europe by the boats of death. Others recruited in local wars and conflicts, or exploited by terrorist group whom we have been fighting on behalf of the world. It is no secret that all investigations have shown that these terrorist groups are using migration corridors to infiltrate into Libya and are aiming to move towards Europe”.
Those were not just words. On Tuesday he met in Tripoli with the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs and offered to facilitate a visit by an AU legal and technical committee to carry out investigations with the Libyan authorities into the alleged violations.
Serraj has rightly reminded those meeting in Abidjan that his country alone is unable to solve the migration crisis: “This is a collective responsibility, we must fight smuggling networks and impose international sanctions against smugglers wherever they are, whether in Africa or Europe, and should not be limited to Libya only. The brotherly African countries have the responsibility to repatriate their nationals and we are ready to help deport them,” he said before reminding the European leaders of their moral obligation: “Europe too must contribute to this humanitarian action and receive more immigrants, especially those who are vulnerable”.
Military Task Force
French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Thursday unveiled plans to form a new military force backed by the AU, EU and the UN expected to be deployed to Libya within weeks. Mr Marcon said that the force would be conducting a joint policing and military operation to clear illegal detention centres and dismantle smuggling networks. Questions remain however over the force’s size, composition and GNA’s role in it.