African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini meet during a small roundtable. Photo by: EU

ABIDJAN — The official theme of last week’s AU-EU summit was “investing in youth for a sustainable future,” but the attention quickly turned to the migration crisis and allegations of slavery in Libya, with the culmination including a declaration and the creation of a joint task force specifically focused on reversing the humanitarian emergency.

EU-AU commission leaders, along with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, agreed to create a joint EU-AU-U.N. task force in order to “save and protect the lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya,” a press release on the declaration said.

AU-EU MPs push on gender, migration ahead of summit

Prior to the opening of the 5th AU-EU Summit in Abidjan, parliamentarians from each union met for a two-day summit. They articulated 11 priority areas in a declaration seen by Devex.

A small roundtable of participants, including the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed to accelerate the voluntary return of migrants to origin countries, resettle those in need and seek to disband of human trafficking networks.

Some remain skeptical, however, as to how these suggestions will be implemented, citing a limited number of legal pathways to migration and the lack of quality employment opportunities for those who envision a better life outside their home country. During the closing press conference, journalists pushed leaders to articulate concrete follow up actions for migrants held captive in Libya as recently reported by CNN.

Some did make concrete commitments. “The king of Morocco has agreed to make available planes to bring migrants home, along with the aircraft belonging to the AU,” AU Chairperson and Guinean President Alpha Conde said. He also urged country officials to bring national documents that refugees need to return home.

The chairman of the African Union Commission estimated that between 400,000 and 700,000 African migrants are living in camps in Libya, often in “inhuman conditions.” One in particular in Tripoli holds 3,800 migrants who are expected to be among the first returned to their countries of origin later this month. To date, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria have already begun voluntary repatriation of its citizens from Libya.

Earlier last week, French President Emmanuel Macron argued for reinforced “police action to dismantle networks,” during an exclusive interview with French media outlets.

However, African Union Commissioner Moussa Faki Mahamat said the task force will not include military intervention, but instead a reinforcement of actors already on the ground, such as the International Organization for Migration and the U.N High Commissioner for Refugees. Traffickers will be charged with crimes against humanity, he said.

But many experts also say the root causes of migration must be simultaneously addressed.

“Youth are more exposed to life outside of Africa thanks to television, the internet and social media,” Secretary General for the European Youth Forum, Anna Widegren told Devex. “So they end up fleeing Africa to look for work because they don’t see themselves having a similar quality of life, so much so that they risk their own lives in search of a better one,” she said.

Read more Devex coverage on migration and displacement.

About the author

  • Christin Roby

    Christin Roby worked as the West Africa Correspondent for Devex, covering global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her master of science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.

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