The EU: gangster of the Mediterranean
EU officials' treatment of African migrants has reached a new low.
The European Union doesn’t treat immigrants as people. It doesn’t see them as individuals like us, with desires and dreams, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. And it certainly doesn’t allow them the freedom to pursue those desires and dreams. Rather, the EU treats those trying to enter its member states, particularly from North Africa, as objects whose fate EU officialdom decides far away, behind closed doors; as bargaining chips to be used in secretive intra-state dealsmaking; and even as commodities to be traded with traffickers.
This was writ large in yesterday’s mini-summit in Paris between the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain on the EU side, and Chad, Niger and, to the extent it has any sort of leader, Libya on the African side. In a move similar to the deal the EU struck with Turkey last year – six billion Euros sent to Ankara in return for Turkey acting as a holding station for hundreds of thousands of migrants – Macron, Merkel et al are going to give the governments of Chad, Niger and Libya millions of Euros in ‘European-financed development programmes’ in return for stronger border controls and an expanded processing system for would-be asylum-seekers. In other words, the EU is paying other states or quasi-states to stop people entering the EU.
The language used is that of international development, or NGOlese, with talk of the ‘disbursement of development aid’ if the states currently being used as a transit route into the EU meet certain conditions. But the reality is far more tawdry, far more gangsterist. The EU is both paying for border-control hardmen, and paying off those who otherwise would have been quite happy to help migrants on their way, their backhands duly greased. After all, migration, and trafficking, is a lucrative business – the International Crisis Group estimates that people-smuggling in Libya alone is worth between $1 billion and $1.5 billion a year. The EU is merely using its financial might to manipulate the migration market in order to meet its own objectives, which at this moment amount to stopping people from getting in.
The EU’s treatment of people trying to enter Europe in an effort to improve their lives can appear sensible and fairminded in the decorous context of a leaders’ summit. But this illusion is far more difficult to sustain in Libya itself. There, the reality of what it means to pay people to keep others out is painfully clear: the paying-off of the traffickers themselves.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Thanks to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, driven with grim irony by the EU stalwarts of France and Britain, there is no coherent state left, no single government to deal with. Instead, there are rival factions, ruling with the strong-arm of their respective militias, which rely on income generated by the smuggling of two main resources: oil and people. People traffickers aren’t operating outside the law in Libya – they’re largely at one with it. So to stop the inflow of migrants from Libya, the EU has to deal with the governing factions in Libya, and ultimately with the militias and related traffickers themselves.
Which in the case of Italy in particular is exactly what has been happening with startling results: since mid-July, migration from Libya to Italy has fallen by 80 per cent. Not that the Italian state has explicitly said it is in cahoots with the traffickers. But, reading between the lines of recent statements from Marco Minniti, Italian interior minister and, tellingly, former spymaster, it’s clear something is going on. He has talked of establishing ‘a type of pact’ with Libyan leaders, and has stated ‘[people-smuggling is] perhaps one of the few businesses that works in Libya, and like all business, it pays salaries — naturally criminal salaries. To challenge this criminal income, you have to create a transparent income. Good money that drives away the bad money.’ It doesn’t take a code-cracker to work out that ‘good’ money is the Italian EU money being used to gazump the lesser, bad money offered by those paying traffickers to ferry them across the Mediterranean.
An investigation published last week in the Middle East Eye confirmed as much. It reported that ‘armed groups are receiving payoffs [from Rome] to stop the boats leaving Libya, in exchange for aid, aircraft hangars and large sums of money’. A local man told the MEE that ‘money can buy anything here. It is not possible to think that an area that for years has been the crossroads of human traffic is suddenly calm. The calm was brought about by economic agreements made with local militias. There is no possible negotiation, except with militias.’
In the ancient coastal town of Sabratha, which was one of the main trafficking routes, another local source was in no doubt that the traffickers must have been paid off: ‘Imagine what it means for traffickers to lose millions of dollars; do you really think they would stop their illicit business just because the Sarraj government has reached an agreement [with the EU] to strengthen the Libyan coastguard? The traffickers only think about money and they have weapons. So to ensure the stability of the area you have to pay them. And pay them a lot.’
That is the secretive, sordid and not-a-little sinister reality of EU leaders’ approach to immigration. Just as they ignored the concerns of European citizens when imposing migration upon them, so they now dismiss the needs and desires of migrants themselves. In both cases, the EU treats people as little more than problems to be managed, flows to be directed, quotas to be met. Despite the self-aggrandising claims and 12-star facepaint of the pro-EU classes, the EU was always hostile to migrants. That its leaders are now officially paying other states to keep ’em out, and its apparatchiks and proxies are unofficially paying militias and traffickers to keep ’em in, shows to what depths the EU will sink in order to preserve itself.
Tim Black is a spiked columnist.
Picture by: Getty Images.