“I think that the most important issue,” Maltese Interior Minister Carmelo Abela tells CNN in response to the massive refugee crisis facing Europe, “is to destroy and stop the actions of smugglers,” primarily based in the failed state of Libya. That would be a neat trick, Paula Newton points out. “A lot of these smugglers are in Africa,” she points out. “They never get on these boats. They never are within your grasp.” Abela replies that the EU agrees on the need for action, but no one apparently wants to actually take action, not even after a decade of problems in the Mediterranean, and the past few years of a flood of refugees:
What they need is a partner on the other side of the Mediterranean, one with the power to curtail the human trafficking. They used to have just the man in place for that role … until they declared war on his regime and turned his country into a failed state, the Christian Science Monitor explains, although Moammar Qaddafi was hardly a partner of integrity. In fact, Qaddafi played on Europe’s xenophobia to give himself carte blanche to crack down on human trafficking in very unpleasant ways:
The migration crisis in its current iteration stems, in part, from the fall of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. In 2010, Europe was moving quickly to normalize relations with the former dictator. Oil interests played a role, but so did the desire of many European nations to outsource migrant control to the North African country.
Libya’s coast has a long history of sending people – willing and unwilling – to Europe and the Americas. Ports like Tripoli and Benghazi were the final stops for medieval slave-trading caravans from the African interior until the 19th century. In recent decades, migrants have shoved off for Italy and Spain in rickety fishing boats, with Libyan officials looking the other way.
Mr. Qaddafi was well aware of European alarm at the rising tide of migrants in his final years in power. He used it as a powerful wedge to improve his own standing. Back to 2004, Qaddafi began making deals with individual European states to control the tide of migrants. In August 2010, he visited his friend Silvio Berlusconi, then president of Italy, in Rome and said Europe would turn “black” without his help. …
By the end of the year Qaddafi had struck a more modest €50 million deal. Internment camps were built and watchtowers erected on the beaches. There was little concern with how Qaddafi went about his business and there were frequent reports of rape and theft by Libyan security services.
When the uprising against Qaddafi began in early 2011, the situation only grew worse for the African migrants. Many rebel groups were convinced that any foreign African in the country were mercenaries for Qaddafi and hundreds were executed. I met a group of such so-called “mercenaries” – some shoeless, all poor and underfed and insisting they were only seeking jobs – held captive by rebels outside Benghazi that spring.
At that point, Qaddafi was at least part of the solution to human trafficking. The terrorist groups given power by the vacuum left after the US-NATO coup are part of the problem. They’re using the desire for escape to rob Libyans of their cash and goods before sending them off on a dangerous passage to Europe, which has finally begun to ask themselves how much longer this can go on.
So far, though, they’re not asking themselves how their (and our) foreign policy made it worse, because that would actually present the proper solution. They destroyed a dictatorship without having any boots on the ground to shape the aftermath, in a part of the world where terror networks had been operating clandestinely for years. Now they operate openly, engage in turf wars, and prevent any legitimate authority from manifesting itself. That won’t change without boots on the ground, and thanks to the precipitate action taken in 2011, it will take a lot more now than it would have a few years ago.
Not everyone wants to face facts, even to this day. Reuters offered an op-ed yesterday, arguing that the primary cause of the refugee flood wasn’t the war on Qaddafi or on terrorist networks. No, the big reason for people fleeing the region is climate change:
The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean is symptomatic of deep dislocation in the Sahel region and sub-Saharan Africa — dislocation exacerbated by climate change.
Climate change is affecting such basic environmental conditions as rainfall patterns and temperatures and is contributing to more frequent natural disasters like floods and droughts. Over the long term, these changing conditions can undermine the rural livelihoods of farming, herding and fishing. The resulting rural dislocation is a factor in people’s decisions to migrate.
Migratory decisions are complex, of course, and nobody would argue that climate change is the only factor driving them. But climate change cannot be ignored. The second-order effects of climate change — undermined agriculture and competition for water and food resources — can contribute to instability and to higher numbers of migrants.
These are the conclusions of our regional report on Northwest Africa, published in 2012, which examined the root causes of tragedies like that of the drowning deaths of up to 700 migrants attempting to reach Europe by boat via the Mediterranean. We found that underlying climate and demographic trends can squeeze the margins of life at the family and community levels, contribute to decisions to migrate, heighten conflicts over basic resources and threaten state structures and regional stability. We also found that climate challenges, longstanding migratory routes and security concerns are linked to the Maghreb, the Sahel region and the Niger Delta in compelling ways.
It’s a remarkable essay, considering the context. Not once does it mention Qaddafi, or the demolition of government by the US and NATO in 2011. Not once does it mention terrorism. However, “demographic trends” and changing temperatures apparently are enough to convince people to risk their lives on the open seas of the Mediterranean and to cough up all their worldly goods to do so to traffickers and terrorists. That’s not a “compelling” argument; it’s willful blindness combined with the unseemly desire to promote favored hobby horses.