- After the Arab Spring and the US-led bombing campaign toppled Gaddafi in 2011, Libya was carved up between a UN-recognized central government in Tripoli, another in the east, and dozens of militias vying for control of the south. Migrant routes that had previously been controlled under Gadaffi suddenly opened up again.
Panicked European governments turned to a familiar playbook. Through EU and UN security and funding agencies, they poured sophisticated surveillance equipment, warships, and billions of euros into countries across Africa — with Libya as the centerpiece — in an effort to push back, return, or contain would-be arrivals. With no strongman ally this time around, that money has been channeled toward training Libya’s coast guard and funding migrant-holding centers — even when news emerged of coast guards firing on refugee boats or militia-run labor camps.
But critics fear that without dealing with the root triggers of migration, these kind of border controls are short-sighted at best. Sealing one route simply opens another one. It’s like playing a high-stakes version of whack-a-mole — but the question is how long is it sustainable, and at what human cost?
Fewer people are making it to Europe, but more are dying, disappearing, or being abused en route — except it’s no longer happening on the shores of Europe. Meanwhile, in the US, President Donald Trump called reports of slaves in Libya “fake news.” Yet every step of Ikuenobe’s journey into slavery was shaped not just by conflict or poverty in Africa, but also directly by Europe’s policies on migration.