Libya has reached a deal with European and African leaders to allow the emergency repatriation of refugees and migrants facing abuse in detention camps in the North African country.
Thursday’s announcement came after revelations that African asylum seekers and migrants were being sold into slavery in Libya as they tried in vain to reach European shores.
“This disgraceful drama reminds us of the darkest hours of humanity. I call on our collective sense of responsibility to take urgent action,” Alassane Ouattara, president of Ivory Coast, said at a two-day African-European Union summit in Abidjan.
The summit, which was meant to focus on development in African countries, instead focused largely on the Mediterranean refugee crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron said leaders were focused on fixing “a series of very critical issues and atrocities, like in Libya”.
The African Union, European Union and UN announced the creation of a task force to deal with the migration crisis, notably in Libya.
The body will work in close collaboration with the Libyan government, the groups said in a statement.
The goal is “to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya, accelerating the assisted voluntary returns to countries of origin, and the resettlement of those in need of international protection”.
It will also aim to dismantle criminal networks involved in trafficking.
However, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said it was important to address the root causes of the crisis if it was to be resolved.
“We will not put an end to the tragedy in the Mediterranean if we do not create significant, legal migration opportunities. We must also ensure that people can find a dignified future in their home country,” he said during the meeting.
Opportunities at home
Others said more must be done to give young Africans opportunities at home.
“We have to invest in jobs,” said Oxfam’s Magalie Laliberte.
“We have to invest to cover their basic needs, that’s what we need to do.”
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Abidjan, said the slave trade in Libya has shocked and embarrassed leaders in both Africa and Europe.
“It has injected a sense of urgency to this summit. International leaders, including Guterres and representatives of charitable organisations, said that African nations must create legal pathways for migration and invest funds in economic development,” she said.
These actors say “more must be done to stop Africans leaving home in the first place”.