Theresa May has ‘snubbed’ an important international meeting. That’s a major problem [OPINION]

Sophia Akram

Theresa May has been criticised [paywall] for ‘snubbing’ a major meeting between the EU and African Union. Talks on the Libyan slave trade took place at the summit. But May should have been present rather than sending Boris Johnson. Because the UK, and its part in NATO, helped to create this awful situation. So it now needs to help clean it up.


The EU and African Union met on 29-30 November. After a CNN report on slave auctions in Libya was released in mid-November, the need for “urgent measures” was called for at the event. The shock the CNN report caused suggests many didn’t know it was going on. And maybe ordinary people didn’t know about the slave trade in Libya. But the international community did know.

The fact is that the Libyan slave trade is old news but no-one’s ever acted like they give a damn. Well, no-one who can actually do anything about it. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Western policy and legacy is central to why such a barbaric practice can still occur.

Keep them out

Migrants from African countries like Nigeria are being sold in Libya. And while violence in the country’s migrant detention centres is well documented, the EU goes to great lengths to stop migrants coming into its territory. This has even meant training the Libyan coastguard to stop boats reaching Italy.

The UK signalled an end to its support for search-and-rescue operations in 2014. When May was Home Secretary her department said:

Ministers across Europe have expressed concerns that search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean … [are] encouraging people to make dangerous crossings in the expectation of rescue. This has led to more deaths as traffickers have exploited the situation using boats that are unfit to make the crossing…

The diminishing of search-and-rescue operations in favour of anti-smuggling missions has seen deaths at sea increasing and kept people trapped in a living “hell“. Reports dating back to 2015 and as recent as April this year documented slavery in Libya. This included migrants being sold directly from detention.

The Libyan slave trade today – with thanks, NATO

What’s more, the Libyan slave trade today is, in part, a product of racism in some groups in Libya. And the foreign intervention by NATO in 2011, which saw the fall of President Gaddafi, unleashed this. Furthermore, some rebel forces believed certain black communities were Gadaffi’s allies – like the population of a town called Tawergha.

Tawergha was the only town in Libya with a black majority, its residents were descendants of slaves. During a siege of neighbouring town Misrata, Gaddafi’s forces used Tawergha as a base. After the rebels broke the siege they took revenge on the people of Tawergha, driving them out of the town. Though displaced, they still faced abuse.

This purge was not just anti-Gaddafi, it involved racism. And this racism was sometimes extremely explicit. A report from the Wall Street Journal acknowledged [paywall] slogans like “the brigade for purging slaves, black skin” used in Misrata during the fighting, for instance.


But as media watchdog FAIR points out, no-one’s really talking about the role NATO played.

World leaders are now saying they’re “horrified” by Libya’s slave auctions. It is about time the issue dominated talks between global powers, as it did at the summit with the EU and African Union. And May not attending [paywall] this meeting is quite apt considering the general silence from the UK government on the Libyan slave trade.

But at least CNN‘s story is serving as a wake-up call for some. The truth is we – the West, NATO, the UK – helped create this awful situation. So, we should be front and centre in efforts to clean it up.

Get Involved!

– Read more articles from The Canary Global on Libya.

Featured image via Youtube

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