Double face of migrant smuggling in Libya!

Photo credit: DW

The people who created the problems of human smuggling and trafficking are the ones who are pretending to offer a solution a report in the New Arab has found.

In the report written by the duo of Lubna Yousef and Tim Eaton, it was discovered that the European Union encouraged the commission of crimes in Libya due to its support for Libyan authorities in cracking down on irregular migration.

The UN fact-finding mission to the country”s conclusion resonates with the suspicions of human rights bodies.

The story of migration in Libya is one of abuse and exploitation. Many migrants lose their lives in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean on their way to Europe.

However, when human smuggling and trafficking are mentioned, hardly are the voices and views of Libya Society known. Yet, it’s within them that local smugglers and traffickers operate.

Nothing is known about how Libyans feel about what is going on.

Chatham House researchers spoke to residents of Zawiya in a bid to get a clue of what is going on. Zawiya is a city in the country’s northwest.

The city is a picture of all the collapses of the post-2011 period. Its security sector is unruly and competitive. Its public service and infrastructure have declined while its legal economy has declined. Meanwhile, the illegal economy of the city is growing to the rooftops as a result of human smuggling and trafficking.

A new group has dominated the city through their control of armed groups.

Zawiya has a population of 186,00 while the number of migrants is 46,000. The increase in the number of migrants has shifted their views on migration.

The city’s residents have mixed feelings about migrants. Some of them are compassionate towards them while others are hostile.

Their feelings are often determined by skin colour, racism against foreigners from Africa, and factors like nationalism and religion.

People struggle to differentiate between trafficking and smuggling. They claim that trafficking does not exist in the city.

Even though they know the role smugglers play in their city’s prevailing situation, they blame the migrants themselves. They are seen as unwanted temporary guests.

Although some of the residents recognize the reasons why migrants had to flee their homes, they are afraid that foreigners could be problematic for their conservative society.

They are generally unmoved by the gory sight of dead bodies, including children,

They are aware of the danger migrants have to put up with. However, in a country with a lot of violence and political divide, everybody is minding their own business and they hardly have the time to think about grant experiences.

Migrants’ presence in public spaces has further unsettled the residents. This is because entire migrant neighbourhoods are cropping up in the city. Residents are uncomfortable with their city’s changing face.

The most important thing, possibly, affecting residents’ views of migrants is a lack of information. Men who work in the migration sector are the ones who have vital information about migrants. Even then they only circulate the stories among family members and acquaintances.

These informal social interactions are where stories on migration are told. The storytellers themselves may be security officials, armed group members, activists or civilians who only have second-hand information relating to migrants.

This has resulted in the storytellers informing the wider community of stories that are in their favour.

The international community does not share this narrative. The EU has made a lot of moves in the past to combat smuggling and trafficking networks. It provided support for Libyan state agencies like the Libyan Coast Guard and the Department for Countering Illegal Migration. It also supported aid and humanitarian work for local and international NGOs in Libya.

But these state agencies are the ones being accused of involvement in human rights abuses and smuggling activities. Some state-run agencies got EU-sponsored capacity-building support, which lent them more legitimacy and a cover for some of the human rights violations which take place there. This includes trafficking activity.

This is almost a shaky balancing of opposite forces. The number of migrants leaving Libya towards the Mediterranean is reducing but there is no evidence that the movement will be eradicated in the nearest future.

Meanwhile, state-affiliated armed groups are regulating the sector instead of seeking to shut it down. A set of informal rules of conduct has been established. This includes the setting of quotas among rival smuggling networks. The treatment of migrants depends on their countries of origin and the amounts they pay the smugglers.

Some are made to undergo forced labour while others are well-treated on their way to Europe.

It is therefore not surprising to find significant differences in the local and international perceptions of human smuggling and trafficking in Libya.

The report concludes by stating that western policy has no alternatives for now. meanwhile, Zawiya’s elite hold significant interests and influence in political negotiations for high office in Libya.

Lubna Yousef is the research associate for the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Tim Eaton is a Senior Research Fellow within the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House.

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