EU-Africa summit opens under shadow of migrant slave trade

Abidjan (AFP) –


Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara called Wednesday for "all urgent measures" to end migrant slave trading in Libya as he opened an Europe-Africa summit meant to focus on long-term economic growth and stability.

The slavery revelations are casting a shadow over the Abidjan summit, which both sides hope will launch a deeper partnership to create jobs for Africa's exploding population while reducing mass migration and terrorism.

"Given this wretched drama which recalls the worst hours of human history, I would like to appeal to our sense of responsibility to take all urgent measures to put an end to that practice which belongs to another age," Ouattara told the summit.

He specifically referred to the "sad" migrant situation in Libya as he opened the gathering of 55 African Union and 28 European Union nations in the Ivorian economic capital.

- Shock images -

The summit comes just two weeks after US network CNN aired footage of black Africans sold as slaves in Libya, sparking outrage from political leaders and street protests in African and European capitals.

"Negotiations are ongoing on a joint (summit) statement addressing the recent reports of slavery in Libya and how to cooperate with the Libya GNA and other actors to address this as a matter of urgency and priority," an EU source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

African Union and other critics have accused the EU of creating conditions for the slave trade as well as rape and torture of migrants by encouraging Libya's UN-backed GNA -- the Government of National Accord -- to detain migrants and stop them from coming to Europe.

The EU has been desperate to ease the worst migration crisis since World War II, with more than 1.5 million migrants entering the bloc since 2015.

In his speech to the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk acknowledged the "horrifying" treatment of young Africans.

But he also warned against starting "a blame game" and called for cooperation to fight criminals.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres added: "The recent horrific images of migrants sold in Libya remind us of the urgency to act."

Amnesty International accused Europe of being "complicit" in the abuses by funding, training and instructing the Libyans to detain migrants.

The group instead called on the African leaders to urge the Europeans to open more safe and legal migrant routes to Europe.

The EU has argued it is continuing to work with UN agencies that have returned 10,000 migrants voluntarily to their home countries in the last year.

But Ghana's president, Nana Akufo-Addo, in a statement before he headed to Abidjan, also made implicit criticism of Libya.

The "gross and scandalous" auctions made "mockeries of the alleged solidarity of African nations grouped in the African Union, of which Libya is a member," he said.

Separately, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement issued by his office, said it was appalling that his compatriots were being sold "like goats".

He vowed to repatriate and rehabilitate all Nigerians stranded in Libya, and reduce the numbers heading for Europe illegally via North Africa.

The EU published a statement it which it and its AU and UN partners agreed to set up a task force to protect migrants and refugees in Libya and along other routes.

This includes speeding up assisted voluntary returns to countries of origin, and the resettlement in Europe of those in need of international protection.

EU officials said the migrant influx, which sparked political divisions across the EU, as well as frequent Islamist attacks in Europe have been a wake-up call to tackle the root causes of why people leave their homes.

The EU has already set up multi-billion euro funds to promote Africa's economic development while deepening counter-terrorism cooperation with African countries where Islamist militant groups are spreading.

- Equal partnership -

Both sides are now calling for more resources for economic development, including for education and training for young people.

In his speech, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called for a "partnership of equals" and underlined EU plans for 44 billion euros ($52.2 billion) in investment for Africa until 2020.

He said Africa would make its own choices without Europe dictating.

EU leaders says there is little time to find ways to meet the needs of an African population set to more than double by 2050 to around 2.4 billion people.

Without fast-tracked development, millions could flee to Europe or turn to radical Islamist groups, EU and African leaders say.

Aready EU officials are warning Islamic State group fighters are fleeing from the collapsing caliphate in Iraq and Syria to Libya and other parts of North Africa.