Exclusive: Macron to propose military action against human traffickers
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French President Emmanuel Macron told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday that he would be proposing military action against human traffickers to combat migrant slave trading. Macron has also called for an "urgent operation" to evacuate victims from Libya.
In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 on the sidelines of the 2017 African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit in Ivory Coast, Macron said he would be having further meetings with EU and AU representatives to propose taking military action against traffickers.
“Human trafficking is a criminal offence," Macron said. "It’s not enough for us just to denounce the problem but we must act collectively in attacking these human trafficking networks, [which] operate from the Sahel all the way to Libya and have connections that enable them to reach all the way across the Mediterranean."
But Macron stressed that when he calls for police and military action he did not mean “waging war” in Libya, a country that has suffered from a brutal civil war since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Later on Wednesday, Macron told reporters that Libya had agreed to allow migrants facing abuse in detention camps to be evacuated within the coming days or weeks.
The leaders of Libya, France, Germany, Chad, Niger and other countries "decided on an extremely urgent operation to evacuate from Libya those who want to be", Macron told reporters after multiparty talks on the sidelines of the summit.
Slavery and human trafficking has dominated the AU-EU summit, which came just two weeks after US network CNN aired footage of African migrants being sold as slaves in Libya.
The video sparked a massive outcry, with several African leaders calling on the international community to take urgent measures to put an end to the practice.
Traffickers 'connected to terrorist networks'
“These human traffickers are connected to terrorist networks," Macron said. "And sometimes it is the same people who wage war on us [who] create victims in the Sahel and Sahara ... Indeed, we need to offer protection to the victims of this trafficking."
He noted that the EU, along with the UN, will be working to tackle migrant slavery by targeting the problem at its source: “We will be identifying people before they get to Libya to see who can claim protection and avoid crossing the Mediterranean."
"Then, what we propose … is to facilitate the return of Africans who are now in Libyan camps to their own countries in Africa, because they stand no chance of gaining asylum since they can return," Macron explained, adding that some nations have already been cooperating with France on this issue.
Macron also reiterated France’s commitment to the G5 Sahel Force, an initiative bringing together troops from Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania aimed at tackling trafficking and smuggling in the vast remote region straddling North Africa and the Sahara. The G5 force, which is backed by French air support, launched its first operations in early November.
Macron was speaking in Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast, where more than 80 African and European leaders had gathered for the two-day AU-EU summit, which is focused on promoting jobs and stability for Africa's exploding population.
Some have even called for a "Marshall Plan" for the continent like the postwar multi-billion-dollar project launched by the United States that is widely credited with helping Europe achieve its current prosperity and stability.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani told MPs from both continents before the summit that time was running out to find ways to meet the needs of an African population set to more than double to around 2.4 billion people by 2050.
"Africa will have to create millions of jobs to accommodate the new arrivals in the job market," Tajani said in Abidjan.
Millions of Africans have already been migrating across the continent to seek jobs or flee conflict. But many have also looked to make the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean, mainly via Libya to Italy. The International Organization for Migration said this week that more than 3,000 migrants and refugees have died crossing the Mediterranean so far in 2017.
Earlier this year, the EU began seeking to reduce the number of migrants arriving on the continent through increased cooperation with the Libyan authorities. A comprehensive aid deal with Turkey has also sharply reduced the flow of those fleeing from the Middle East to Greece.
More than 1.5 million people from the Middle East and Africa have entered Europe in the last two years and EU officials fear new and even greater influxes in the future.
EU officials have said the migrant influx, which has sparked heated political debate in the EU, as well as a spate of Islamist attacks in Europe have served as a wake-up call highlighting the urgency of tackling the root causes of why so many people are fleeing their homes.
The EU has already set up multi-billion-euro funds to promote Africa's economic development while deepening counter-terrorism cooperation with the African countries where the influence of Islamist militant groups is still spreading.
China, India, Japan, the Gulf Arab states and others are also competing for influence in Africa, although the 28-nation EU remains the continent's biggest economic and political partner.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)