The United Nations, African Union and the European Union have agreed to set up a joint task force to rescue African refugees from slavery in Libya.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, AU Commission Chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, who met on Wednesday at the AU/EU Summit in Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, said the team will work to save and protect migrants and refugees enroute to and inside Libya, accelerating the assisted voluntary returns to their countries of origin, and the resettlement of those in need of international protection.
“The work of the task force will be closely co-ordinated with the Libyan authorities and be part of the overall joint work that the AU, the EU and the UN will intensify to dismantle traffickers and criminal networks, and to offer opportunities of development and stability to countries of origin and transit by tackling the root causes of migration,” the joint statement read.
The task force will add to what has been done by countries of origin, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with EU funding.
“We must also ensure that people can find a dignified future in their home country,” said UN secretary General Antonio Guterres.
In another joint AU-EU statement released on Thursday on the sidelines of the summit, the leaders welcomed efforts by the Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord of Libya to address such cases, promising to support it in bringing the perpetrators of the crimes to justice.
The move comes a few weeks after independent US television channel CNN broadcast footages of migrants being subjected to extreme abuse, including being auctioned off as slaves.
While Libyan authorities launched investigations into the allegations, which they said they were not aware of, sources including the 155 Ivorian migrants returned to Abidjan in November 20, have confirmed the sale of slaves has been going on from as early as 2013.
The refugees and migrants are reportedly smuggled into Libya by a network of criminal gangs with the promise of reaching Europe’s shores.
The slave trade is said to have flourished following the power vacuum in Libya after the killing of long term leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, as rival groups battle for power. More than 150,000 people are said to attempt to reach Europe through Libya — the main gateway — by sea annually for the past three years.
Meanwhile, the need to create more jobs and enhance economic opportunities for Africa’s young population came to the fore at the summit.
Leaders emphasised the need to promote youth development, empower women and protect girls.
“Today, the majority of African citizens are under 25, and by the middle of this century, one in four people on earth will be African. But this demographic dividend cannot deliver without smart investments,” said Jean-Claude Juncker.
“This is precisely why we are going to put our investments in education, in infrastructure, in peace and security, as well as in good governance – all of which will in turn inspire good business environments and create much needed jobs and growth.”
African leaders who spoke at the event welcomed the EU’s External Investment Plan, which was launched in 2016 with the aim of encouraging European countries to invest in African countries in order to promote inclusive growth, job creation and sustainable development and so tackle some of the root causes of irregular migration.
The project will mobilise about $52.5 billion of private investments for sustainable development and job creation with the focus to enhancing entrepreneurship of women and young people.
According to the Africa Development Bank, about 12 million youth enter the job market each year but only 3.1 million jobs are created, leaving vast numbers of youth unemployed. This has resulted in severe consequences, including increased migration out of Africa.