Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Paying Libya's Militias to Cut Off Migrant Flows

Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of migrants have passed through Libya on their way to Italy and the rest of Europe. Many were helped along the way by the armed militias that dominate big swathes of Libyan territory. The groups have been happy to help human smugglers in return for cash. But now the Italians have found a way to change the equation:
The seas off western Libya have been quiet since late July. Before that, they swarmed with smugglers’ boats overfilled with migrants, mostly sub-Saharan Africans heading for Europe. From 23,000 migrants per month, the flow of arrivals has slowed to a trickle.

The migrants are accumulating on Libya’s coast and many are incarcerated in opaque circumstances. Their movement has been stymied by militias, who have turned on the northbound flow of migrants they once profited from. Deep in the southern desert, emergent militia groups evince the goal of closing the border with Niger and Chad to migrants moving north — attempting to patrol areas that none of Libya’s three rival governments ever secured.

Motivating the Libyan militias’ newfound zeal for blocking migrant movement is a new policy spearheaded by the Italian government and embraced by the European Union. The approach relies on payment to militias willing to act as migrant deterrent forces. Italian government representatives use intermediaries such as mayors and other local leaders to negotiate terms of the agreements with the armed groups. They also build local support in the targeted areas by distributing humanitarian aid. . . .

The pay-them-to-stop scheme has introduced a novel way for amoral, uncontrolled armed groups to carry on extracting rents from the still-raging migrant crisis. Previously, migrants and smugglers paid militias a tax to depart for Europe. Now, the E.U. — coordinated by Italy — in effect pays a tax to the same groups to keep the migrants in place.
A clever scheme, I guess. But this has to be terrible for Libya's future. Half the reason migrants pass through Libya rather than Algeria is that Algeria has a government up to the job of stopping them. This may slow the flow of migrants in the short term, but at the price of putting off that day when Libya has a stable state for a long, long time.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

So the EU is paying blood money to armed thugs with no principles and zero oversight to brutalize refugees. I'm sure that won't result in any rapes, murders, enslavements, et cetera.

"But terrible things already happen to migrants. How is this different?"

Well, for one thing, now the Europeans are complicit in those terrible things. From a moral standpoint, this is pretty bankrupt.

For another thing, previously these militias were incentivized to see refugees were well taken care of - it would be bad for business if the smugglers gained a reputation for allowing the people they smuggle to be brutalized. Now the situation is the opposite, and the militias actually are incentivized to ensure that refugees fear for their lives and wellbeing.

The problem with the EU's calculations here is that this won't stop the refugees arriving. People will keep coming, and the smugglers will keep smuggling them. It'll be harder and more expensive, and there will be much more death and human suffering before the end, but it will all continue just the same.

This is a cowardly, hypocritical, amoral act by European governments. They're paying other people to do their dirty work for them out of sight of their own citizens. If the Italian police or army raped and slaughtered refugees arriving on their shores, there would be riots in the streets. But if the Italian government quietly pays Libyans to rape and slaughter those same refugees on Libyan shores, suddenly no one cares. This sickens me.