Modern-day slavery in Libya has come under sharp focus at the African Union European Union Summit currently underway in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, with one world leader after the other condemning and denouncing the practice.
This follows shock revelations two weeks ago that human traffickers have been buying, selling and murdering African refugees in Libyan slave markets.
Addressing other world leaders during the opening of the summit yesterday afternoon, Estonian Prime Minister and President of the Council of the European Union Jüri Ratas said “recent reports about the treatment of immigrants by smugglers is shocking. Last year alone more than 5000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean, and we can’t accept it. The worst we can do at this moment is to start the blame game. Our common duty and responsibility is to step up the fight against these unscrupulous criminals and bring them to justice.”
He said it was in the best interest of both the African Union and the European Union to make sure that migration was orderly.
Chad’s Moussa Faki, chair of the African Union Commission, pleaded with both continental bodies to take urgent action against slavery in Libya. He also echoed Ratas’ message: “How long are we going to watch these tragedies unfold. We are horrified by African migrants being auctioned off in Libyan territory.”
Until the two continents work together to overcome poverty in Africa, modern day slavery will not end, he said, quoting former president Nelson Mandela who once said “overcoming poverty is not an act of charity, but of justice.”
Migration to Europe and death in the high seas were a responsibility of both continents, he said. Earlier in the day a top government official who was part of the South African delegation to the summit said President Jacob Zuma felt very strongly about the slavery issue in Libya.
“He is actually very angry about it. He plans to push the Europeans hard about it. There are talks that some of the slaves are being auctioned off to Europe.”
Zuma, said the officials, used one of the closed evening sessions to raise the Libyan slave crisis.
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also added his voice in condemning human trafficking and slavery in Libya.
“The recent pictures we have seen of migrants in Libya are atrocious. Migrants should be able to contribute positively to both host country and their own country, not what we are seeing," Guterres said.
Pan-African Parliament President Roger Nkodo Dang called for both the AU and EU to set up an inquiry into slave trade in Libya.
“We firmly condemn the sale of young African like cattle in Libya. We call for an investigation into human rights abuses in Libya.”
AU chairman and Guinea President Alpha Condé called on both the AU and EU to set up a trust fund that will be used to address Libya’s “irregular migrations”.
Other speakers focussed on the need for the AU and EU to create jobs and invest in educating and upskilling young people on both continents.
The summit continues today.