Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
In early July, the New York Times carried a front-page story about the Tajoura detention center in Libya, where migrants, mostly from Africa, are held. Tajoura is located 10 miles east of Tripoli, the capital of Libya. There have been well-documented details about human rights abuses in all of the Libyan detention centers. There are reports of forced labor, rape, torture, starvation, and migrants who have been forced to carry weapons for the Libyan militias. Last November CNN carried a filmed report showing a slave market, where African migrants were being auctioned off.
When the issue of the migration wave into Europe has been raised in the past, most observers focused on the refugees who came from the wars in Syria and Iraq and sought to enter the European Union from the east. In contrast, most of the immigrants coming through the Central Mediterranean and entering Libya were from African states, particularly Niger, Egypt, Chad, Sudan, and Nigeria.
What pushed the story about the human rights abuses in Libya to the front page was an airstrike that hit Tajoura in early July that killed 44 migrants and wounded 130.
Back in 2008, the former Italian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Libyan government providing for cooperation to halt the wave of illegal immigration across the Mediterranean. The MOU specifically refers to the provision of temporary reception camps in Libya for migrants. At the European level, the Italian-Libyan MOU was endorsed by the European Council. To make matters worse, while the EU had a policy in the past of rescuing migrants at sea, in 2014, EU rescue operations were halted. African migrants were left with one choice: the detention centers in Libya. This is why critics say that the EU is complicit in creating the system of abuses in the Libyan camps.
This is not a short-term challenge that can be dealt with by building prison camps along the Mediterranean shore. The population of Africa is expected to grow substantially in the next century; if Africa had a total population of 1.2 billion in 2015, by the end of the century it is expected to reach 4.5 billion. By mid-century, Nigeria alone will have a population larger than all the states in the EU combined. According to The Economist, by 2025, the total population of Africa will exceed that of China.
What is needed is to address the factors pushing the migrants out of their countries toward Europe, because those numbers will inevitably rise. The strategy required must be based on making the African states that are chiefly sending their populations toward Europe more hospitable. These countries will require clean water, adequate food production, and the latest technologies in animal husbandry. Their armed forces must be trained and directed to neutralize the terror groups making life impossible in parts of Africa.
In the meantime, the African demographic explosion carries global implications. Increasingly, small but rising numbers of Africans are crossing the Atlantic Ocean in order to reach Central America. They come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Eritrea and Sudan. Some hope to settle in South America.
What this indicates is that Africa cannot be left on the sidelines while these major changes take place. Africa is not a distant problem, but rather poses a growing challenge for neighboring continents, as its migrants move to their doorsteps.