There has been continued exposure and outcry about the treatment of migrants in Libya, and rightly so. Slavery, torture, ongoing sexual violence, including systematic use of male rape. And there are attempts to alleviate the suffering and sort out the situation. But it is no surprise that we have reached this point. If we contain people in lawless lands run by vicious militias then this is where we arrive.
There were steps along the way that led us here:
If deals with abusive and repressive regimes in order to contain migrants are acceptable, then this is where we arrive.
If the only measure of success in cooperation with third countries is prevention of migration, then this is where we arrive.
If agreements are designed in such a way as to bypass parliamentary scrutiny and to render them non-justiciable, then this is where we arrive.
If Spain’s cooperation with Morocco on migration is “good practice” and the EU-Turkey Deal a “success” rather than the “extraordinary and temporary measure” that it was supposed to be (according to the statement itself), then this is where we arrive.
If we present a simple binary choice – either you support THIS deal or you want people to drown in the sea; either you agree with this restrictive measure or you are for “open borders” – then this is where we arrive.
If we do little to tackle the deep causes of displacement, or exacerbate them further with military interventions, arms sales, complicity with dictators, etc, such that people are forced to leave, then this is where we arrive.
If we tolerate trafficking (e.g. of Nigerian women into Italy to become literally part of the landscape for 30+ years) but go into a meltdown about smugglers getting Syrians to protection, then this is where we arrive.
If we consider migration to be a security threat or a threat to our very existence, rather than a positive, economic necessity, then this is where we arrive.
If we scramble to classify a country as safe, even though we know that really it isn’t, then this is where we arrive.
If we look at refugees arriving in Europe (the majority of people arriving in 2015/2016 were refugees) without seeing that that could be us – and not so long ago was us – then this is where we arrive.
If political and financial resources are shifted to focus on keeping people out rather than offering protection, this is where we arrive.
If we bow to the myths and prejudice of the extremists, then this is where we arrive.
Migration and forced displacement are complex phenomena with multiple causes – historical, economic, structural. They are not our fault. But there were alternatives along the way; we presented ours. Roads lead in different directions, and even now different choices can and should be made. Otherwise, we will remain, here, at this point – Libya – where we’ve arrived.
Catherine Woollard, ECRE Secretary General
Photo: (cc) Shawn Clover, August 2005