Europe’s policy towards Libya only compounds human suffering

By Kit Roberts


EU policy is resulting in migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean being returned to northern Libya.

There many are subject to horrific conditions including torture and forced conscription into militias. This is in direct contravention of the European Court of Human rights, and represents a major failure of policy in Europe.  

A report from Amnesty International highlights key EU policies which involve working with the Libyan coast guard to intercept any migrant boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

Ostensibly, this is to prevent migrants from risking their lives at sea making the perilous crossing. Returning these people to Libya exposes them to a high risk of, kidnap, rape, or being killed in any one of a variety of inventively cruel and painful ways. There are even reports of slave markets, with people being auctioned off.

There is also no authority to speak of. As a unified country, Libya scarcely exists. Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has been plunged into chaos, with several militias controlling various parts of the country.

In 2020, things do not look much better, with different nations now recognising different factions in the conflict. 

The tide of the war was turned at Benghazi, when the UN backed a no-fly zone over the country, and provided some air cover to rebel forces. This eventually allowed them to gain the upper hand over Gaddafi.

Gaddafi himself met an ignominious end, being sodomised with a bayonet before being shot.

With his demise, Libya was left with no government, and no one faction with sufficiently recognised authority to begin rebuilding the country.

Mindful of the disaster in the Iraq, western countries refused to intervene on the ground, effectively allowing the victorious rebels to fight it out amongst themselves over who would govern oil-rich Libya. 

Initially, they splintered off into numerous groups vying for power over who would fill the enormous power vacuum left by the late dictator. Over the last nine years this has now largely boiled down to two groups.

The government of National Accord controls the west of the country, including the capital Tripoli and most of the major cities.

The east is largely controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. Nonetheless, it would be very generous to say that either of these factions have full control over their territories. 

The seemingly indefinite state of instability has created opportunity for people seeking to get to Europe.

With little to no policing along large swathes of the north coast, smugglers can operate largely with impunity in Libyan territory.

Alarmingly, one of the largest supporters of the Libyan coast guard is the European Union.

The EU has trained and financed the Libyan coast guard in order to prevent migrant boats from leaving Libyan waters, where the EU has no legal responsibility to help them. 

The logic behind this hardline approach is helping migrants to cross would encourage more to come, but despite EU efforts at deterrence the boats have not stopped.

Smugglers initially were able to use safer, sturdier boats designed to withstand journeys such as the crossing, but if they were intercepted the boats were confiscated or destroyed.

Migrants, undeterred, are now forced to use increasingly small inflatable craft that are not capable of crossing the open sea. With tiny, overladen craft such as these, foundering is often not so much a likelihood as an inevitability. 

Many EU countries have even made it illegal for captains to rescue migrant boats they find in distress.

This directly flouts international maritime law which states that captains must always provide assistance to vessels which require it. Captains who cannot bear to stand by and watch people drown have found themselves stranded at sea, unable to land with their passengers. 

The hypocrisy here is so phenomenally huge it almost seems crass to point it out.

The continent which plays host to the European Court of Human Rights, one of which is the right to life, both knowingly works to return people to a place where they are at a high risk of being tortured and murdered, and makes it illegal to stop them from drowning if they try to escape these conditions.

It is less human rights than citizens rights. People trapped on the north coast of Libya face truly desperate circumstances, often come knowing full well what awaits them.

Most are not Libyans.

Since Turkey worked to close the eastern route into Europe, many Syrians and Lebanese people are also now using the central Mediterranean route.

There is also a large number of people fleeing Eritrea one of the world’s least known dictatorship. Eritreans entering southern Libya face particularly desperate circumstances, as kidnap and ransom is almost inevitable.

The dictatorship of Eritrea is comparable to North Korea in its suppression of its citizens.

Indefinite military service is compulsory for all men. Anyone who tries to flee the country has the death penalty placed on them if they return.

Southern Libya, dominated by militias, is especially perilous. Many Eritreans are kidnapped and tortured while their captors await ransom from their families back home.

In addition to selling everything they can to raise money, the families also face persecution from their government for being associated with a known deserter. 

This combines into a perfect storm of human tragedy on the Libyan coast which the EU does not even attempt to comprehend.

Its policy outside its borders has been almost entirely one of deterrence, and no deterrence the EU is capable of would be enough to stop people. 

Libya’s lawlessness is the fault of an international community that stood by as decades of dictatorship were toppled by an army whose only unifying cause was opposition to Muammar Gaddafi.

With his death, this cause was done.

The lack of any support from the international community after this all but guaranteed the chaos in which Libya is now mired. It is a failure on every level, from its initial creation, to ongoing policy. 


Opinion articles featured on Redaction reflect the views of their author, not those of the publication as a whole. Only Editorials display the opinions of our management.


Featured Image: Pixabay

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