critical issues and trends humanitarian concerns
Critical Issues & Trends – Humanitarian Concerns – Takes frequent looks at humanitarian concerns around the world that you should be aware of. (Matthew 25:40)

In the middle of the last decade, the European Union had a problem. Masses of migrants were moving across the Mediterranean Sea toward European shores. More than 60 million people worldwide were running for their lives from conflicts around the globe. These migrants were part of the world’s largest displaced person crisis since the end of World War II. Most of them ended up in nations that neighbored their devastated homelands, but others continued their flights from the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa in hopes of reaching Europe.

Regarding the European Refugee Crisis, the UN Refugee Agency reported in 2015:

“Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain charts a 83 per cent increase in refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from January to June – 137,000 compared to 75,000 in the same period last year. Historically, crossings significantly increase in the second half of the year, in particular over the summer months, so it is expected the numbers will continue to soar. Arrivals in the second half of 2014, for example, were almost double those of the first half.”

The world became familiar with the pictures of these European-bound migrants along with their rafts, often turned over in the Mediterranean Sea. In April 2015 alone more than 1,200 immigrants died when their boats overturned in their efforts to reach Europe. In 2015 the European Union voted to triple its funding for Mediterranean Sea rescue operations.

The Mediterranean Sea was becoming known as the world’s most deadly sea route for refugees. The continued rise in the numbers of individuals and their families who chose to chance this dangerous pathway to Europe spoke to the ferocity of the predicaments they were facing in their homelands.

The migrants who survived the trek to Europe were not arriving without their own baggage. This massive influx of refugees into southern Europe was changing the face of European politics. Right-wing nationalists were rising in popularity as the people of Europe feared what the refugees meant for their own jobs and economic stability. Terrorist attacks in France and Belgium suggested that ISIS and other extremists were also infiltrating European borders among the ranks of these refugees.

The leaders of Europe were in a difficult position. If a refugee and their family survived the awful trip from their devastated homeland, across dangerous routes that included kidnappers, human traffickers and not to mention threats of death by drowning, starvation and other methods; was Europe wiling to then meet them at the continent’s southern border and turn them away?

Outsourcing a Refugee Crisis

The answer to the European refugee crisis was not to be found in more funding of rescues at sea or more policies for integrating the refugees when they arrived in Europe. The real answer was to be found by reducing the number of refugees arriving to Europe’s shores in the first place. In other words, the European Union needed to regain the upper hand by making this mass of refugees another nation’s problem and not Europe’s problem.

refugees in libya

In March 2016 the EU-Turkey deal was finalized which effectively outsourced Europe’s refugee crisis. Along with more than $6 billion in aid that was to go towards helping refugees, Turkey agreed to receive any refugees who arrived at Europe’s shores illegally. The European bound refugees departing from the Middle East drastically reduced in the years to follow and Turkey became the beneficiary of Europe’s troubles.

refugees in libya

Similarly, the EU struck a deal with Libya to perform the same role for refugees arriving from Africa. The EU deal with Libya was similar to the one made with Turkey with one vital difference. Libya was in the midst of a civil war. As a result, the European money given to Libya has descended more quickly into corrupt hands and resulted in far greater dangers and harm to the refugees traveling through Libya toward Europe.

refugees in libya

According to a new report from the Associated Press, the EU has sent more than 327.9 million euros to Libya toward this effort. Another 41 million euros was approved in December 2019. Huge sums of this money have been diverted to a vast and growing network of militias, human traffickers and Libyan coast guard members who exploit the refugees. Militias were found torturing refugees in the detention centers which the refugees are brought to if found fleeing for Europe. In other instances, they are held for ransom until their family members pay for their release. At other times the refugees simply disappear, becoming part of the human trafficking networks that are swelling out of northern Africa and Libya.

Libya’s civil war has been called a battle of militias.

Internal documents showed that the EU was aware of these abuses even while they financed the abusers. And even while the EU publicly denounced the detention centers of Libya where the refugees were being held, the EU continued to fund them.

Quick Facts

  • The Libyan coast guard says it intercepted nearly 9,000 people in 2019 en route to Europe and returned them to Libya this year, after quietly extending its coastal rescue zone 100 miles offshore with European encouragement.
  • About 5,000 refugees are crowded into 16-23 detention center in Libya. Most of these are located in the western part of Libya where the militias are most powerful.
  • Many migrants recalled being cut, shot and whipped with electrified hoses and wooden boards. They also heard the screams of others emerging from the cell blocks off-limits to U.N. aid workers. Families back home are made to listen during the torture to get them to pay, or are sent videos afterward.
  • The price for freedom is around $2,000.
  • At one detention center, migrants at the center are tortured for ransoms to be freed and trafficked for more money, only to be intercepted at sea by the coast guard and brought back to the center, according to more than a dozen migrants, Libyan aid workers, Libyan officials and European human rights groups.
  • An analysis commissioned by the EU and released in December by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime noted that the detention centers profit by selling migrants among themselves and to traffickers, as well as into prostitution and forced labor.
  • Refugees returned to the detention face inhuman and degrading conditions and the risk of torture, sexual violence, extortion, and forced labor. Included among this group is a large population of children and teenagers.
  • While Mediterranean departures have decreased since mid-2017, the chances of dying in waters off the coast of Libya significantly increased from 1 in 42 in 2017 to 1 in 18 in 2018, according to UNHCR.

refugees in libya

Additional Reading

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at