This module is a resource for lecturers


This section contains material that is meant to support lecturers and provide ideas for interactive discussions and case-based analysis of the topic under consideration.

Exercise 1: Libya migrants - Emergency evacuation operation

Info box 1

Libya migrants: Emergency evacuation operation agreed

An urgent evacuation plan has been devised for migrants facing abuse in Libyan detention camps. It was drawn up at an African Union-European Union summit in Ivory Coast. Libya's UN-backed administration joined the agreement, but has only limited control over the territory, raising questions about how it will work in practice. The migrants will be sent mainly back to their home countries. The move follows the publication of video footage that appeared to show migrants from sub-Saharan Africa being sold in Libya as slaves. French President Emmanuel Macron called the slave auctions a "crime against humanity".

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe. Thousands die on the journey and those who make it arrive in Libya virtually penniless, making them vulnerable to modern-day slave traders.

Libya launched a formal investigation into migrants being sold off as farm laborers for as little as $400 (£300) after CNN broadcast footage of the slave auctions in mid-November. Migrants trapped in Libyan detention centers have described them as "like hell". Nigeria had already made a unilateral move to repatriate migrants, with 240 voluntarily flown home on Tuesday night. Ghana also repatriated more than 100 of its citizens detained in Libya. Speaking in Abidjan, Mr Macron said the "extreme emergency operation" had been agreed by nine countries, including Libya, France, Germany, Chad and Niger. Libya had reiterated its agreement "to identify the camps where barbaric scenes have been identified", he said according to AFP news agency. Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj had agreed to give the International Organization for Migration (IOM) access to the camps, where it would offer migrants the chance to be evacuated in the coming days and weeks. "This work will be carried out in the next few days" in co-ordination with the countries of origin, Mr Macron said - adding that particularly at-risk migrants could be given asylum in Europe. EU sources told AFP that humanitarian organizations, including the IOM, had already repatriated some 13,000 migrants in the last year, mainly to sub-Saharan Africa. (…)

The summit's focus was supposed to be on African youth, but it turned out to be a conference about migration. The aim is to get more migrants from Libya repatriated to their home countries, as quickly as possible. The evacuations will be carried out by the IOM and funded by the EU, a practice that has been in place for years. A European MP who was at the summit told me the IOM suggested that it could repatriate some 15,000 people before Christmas - it's ambitious, but unrealistic, considering the numbers flown out over the past year. I am also told that they will have to pay for exit visas. The idea is to get people to return voluntarily, and African embassies in Tripoli and Tunis will need to help coordinate this. At its core, this plan appears to be part of the EU's wider strategy to reduce Mediterranean crossings, but it now comes against the backdrop of global outrage against a slave trade in Libya that has been known to member-states for more than a year and which the IOM highlighted in a report in March this year.

The logistical obstacles to this latest plan have not changed - the Libyan government is still largely incapable of controlling any migrant detention centers or camps overseen by militias. The AU-EU meeting also agreed other initiatives to target traffickers, including a task force to dismantle trafficking networks and freeze assets. But bodies including the AU and UN have accused the European Union of helping to create the conditions for migrant abuse in Libya with their policy of intercepting Europe-bound migrants and returning them to Libya. And the IOM's chief of mission in Libya, Othman Bellboys, has warned smuggling networks in Libya are "getting stronger".

BBC News, 30 November 2017
Info box 2

UN human rights chief: Suffering of migrants in Libya outrage to conscience of humanity

The UN Human Rights chief today expressed dismay at the sharp increase in the number of migrants held in horrific conditions at detention facilities in Libya, saying the European Union's policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean was inhuman.

"The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said. "What was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic.

"The detention system for migrants in Libya is broken beyond repair," said Zeid. "Only alternatives to detention can save migrants' lives and physical security, preserve their dignity and protect them from further atrocities.

"The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya and pretend that the situation can be remedied only by improving conditions in detention," he said, calling for the creation of domestic legal measures and the decriminalisation of irregular migration to ensure the protection of migrants' human rights.

According to Libya's Department of Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) 19,900 people were being held in facilities under its control in early November, up from about 7,000 in mid-September when authorities detained thousands of migrants following armed clashes in Sabratha, a smuggling and trafficking hub, about 80 kilometres west of Tripoli.

The EU and Italy are providing assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats in the Mediterranean, including in international waters, despite concerns raised by human rights groups that this would condemn more migrants to arbitrary and indefinite detention and expose them to torture, rape, forced labour, exploitation and extortion. Those detained have no possibility to challenge the legality of their detention, and no access to legal aid.

"The increasing interventions of the EU and its member states have done nothing so far to reduce the level of abuses suffered by migrants," the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights said. "Our monitoring, in fact, shows a fast deterioration in their situation in Libya."

From 1-6 November, UN human rights monitors visited four DCIM facilities in Tripoli, where they interviewed detainees who have fled conflict, persecution and extreme poverty from states across Africa and Asia.

"Monitors were shocked by what they witnessed: thousands of emaciated and traumatized men, women and children piled on top of each other, locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic necessities, and stripped of their human dignity," Zeid said.

"Many of those in detention have already been exposed to trafficking, kidnappings, torture, rape and other sexual violence, forced labour, exploitation, severe physical violence, starvation and other atrocities during their journeys through Libya, often at the hands of traffickers or smugglers."

A man held in Tarik al-Matar DCIM centre, where some 2,000 migrants were packed into a hangar without functioning toilets, told UN staff: "We are like a box of matches, we don't sleep, we have diseases, we lack food, we didn't shower for months. We will all die if not saved from this place, this is Calvary, it is excessively difficult to survive the smell of faeces and urine, many are [lying] unconscious on the floor."

Men, women and children held at DCIM centres recounted beatings at the hands of the guards. "They beat us every day, they use electric sticks, just because we ask for food or [medical] treatment or for information about what will happen to us," a migrant from Cameroon told monitors.

Women recounted rape and other sexual violence at the hands of smugglers and guards. A woman from Cote d'Ivoire told UN staff that during her journey: "Armed men came in and chose six women, including me, and took us out one by one. When I first refused, I was slapped, and a gun was pointed at my head. Four men raped me outside. I was in initial stages of pregnancy, I bled profusely, and I think I lost the baby. I haven't seen a doctor yet."

In another case, a Sub-Saharan African woman said, "I was taken away from the DCIM centre and raped in a house by three men including a DCIM guard.

The UN Human Rights Office urges the Libyan authorities to take concrete steps to stamp out human rights violations and abuses in centres under their control, to remove those reasonably suspected of carrying out violations, to investigate and prosecute those responsible, and publicly signal that such abuses will no longer be tolerated. It also calls for migrants not to be detained and that all centres be open.

"We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe's shores," said Zeid.

OHCHR, 14 November 2017

EU's policy of helping Libya intercept migrants is 'inhuman', says UN

Zeid's comments came after ministers from 13 European and African countries pledged on Monday to act to ease the crisis around the Mediterranean, especially to help improve conditions for people held in Libya. At a meeting in Bern of the contact group on the crisis along the central Mediterranean migration route, ministers reiterated a pledge to strengthen Libya's coastguard.

Italy, with the support of the EU, has since the summer been training the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats as part of a controversial deal that has resulted in arrivals to Italy falling by nearly 70% since July. Reacting to Hussein's charges, an EU spokesperson said Brussels was funding UN agencies on the ground in Libya that were working to protect people. "We believe that the detention centers in Libya must be closed. The situation in these camps is unacceptable," the spokesperson said in a statement. The EU wanted rescued people to be brought to "reception centers that meet international humanitarian standards", they said, while at the same time improving the Libyan coastguard's capacity to prevent deaths at sea. But the UN human rights office criticized European countries for ignoring warnings that the deal with Libya could condemn more people to detention, exposing them to torture, rape, forced labor and extortion. "We cannot be a silent witness to modern-day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings, in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe's shores," Hussein said.

The Guardian, 14 November 2017

Proposed questions for discussion:

  • Do you consider the measures reported in the news article sufficient to address the facts detailed in the Info Box 2? Please explain.
  • Do you agree with the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights that the EU policy of helping Libya intercept migrants is inhuman? Why?
  • What actions - if any - should have accompanied EU measures of support to Libyan authorities, with the purpose of making sure that assistance was not leading to results different from the ones envisaged, such as detention of rescued people in camps that do not meet international standards?
  • From a broader perspective, are such measures likely to reduce migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean? Please justify your answer.
  • If you had decision-making powers, what key elements would you propose in a robust policy to counter migrant smuggling? Would such policy cover the matters explained in the Info Box 2? Please explain. What initiatives, if any, would you carry out prior to taking a decision on the most appropriate anti-smuggling policy applicable to the case? Do you envisage a role for private stakeholders and/or civil society in the context of such a policy? Please explain.
  • Based on the facts provided to you via Info Box 1 and 2, what actions - if any - would you take to enhance the prospects of the investigation opened by Libyan authorities? Please explain.
  • Do Info Box 1 and 2 unveil incidents of potential violations of (positive or negative) States' obligations? Please explain.

Exercise 2: Smugglers or heroes?

It is suggested that the lecturer screens the short film Women Work to Feed Central American Migrants by MSNBC (app. 4:30 min). The film may be complemented with the following news piece:

Las Patronas: The Mexican women helping migrants

Nineteen years ago, the Romero Vazquez sisters were standing at the side of the railway tracks with their grocery bags, waiting to cross.

Little did they know that the approaching train would change their lives. "We'd gone to buy bread and milk for breakfast," Norma Romero remembers, nodding towards a small yellow store on the other side of the tracks. "As it came past, a group of people on one of the wagons shouted at us: 'Madre, we're hungry'. Then another group passed by and shouted the same thing: 'Madre, we're hungry'." "So, we threw them our bread, and then our cartons of milk." That simple, instinctive act of kindness by the young girls was to lead to the creation of Las Patronas, a charitable organisation which has helped tens of thousands of Central American migrants over the past two decades and which was awarded Mexico's most prestigious human rights prize last year. The village of La Patrona lies in an otherwise forgettable corner of the eastern state of Veracruz. Long freight trains clatter through the village two or three times a day. Often, migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua sit on the roof of the trains heading north to the United States in search of work. "We used to think they were just adventurous Mexicans, travelling our country for free," says Norma. When the sisters returned home that fateful day, they expected to be punished by their mother for giving away the family's breakfast. (…)

Instead, their mother, the formidable Dona Leonidas, helped them devise a plan. If these people needed food, she told them, the family should cook up around 30 portions of rice and beans a day, to hand out as the train thundered past. Today, Las Patronas' bright-pink breezeblock kitchen is a hive of activity. More than a kitchen, it is more like a small factory producing dozens of portions of that same basic meal - rice, beans and a packet of eight corn tortillas. Rather than feeding just 30, now the women give out food and water to hundreds of migrants every day. Standing over a vast pot of black beans on a wood-fired stove is Guadalupe Gonzalez, Norma's sister-in-law and fellow patrona. Wiping her hands on her apron, she tries to sum up just why their simple idea has been so successful and well received. "We never expected it to turn into something so big," she says. "I think it's because it came out of nowhere, it came from just the little that one can give." It is also because, over the past two decades, it has become so vital. As levels of poverty and violence in Central America continue to be among some of the worst in the world, ever greater numbers of migrants are heading north, travelling on the freight trains commonly known as La Bestia (The Beast). (…)

"They kidnap you, they trade in people, they trade in organs," says Ricardo of the cartels. "If you've got some money on the train, they steal and rob everything that you've got," echoes his travelling companion, Oscar. "It is really dangerous," Oscar continues. "Not only because of the gangsters, but also because of the dangers on the top of the train. A little girl fell from the roof a few days ago and was cut in two," he shudders. Despite the extortion by the drug gangs, the hostility from the authorities, the punishing heat and torrential rains, the two men are insistent that the journey is worth the effort. And they are aware that a friendly face lies just a little further up the tracks. "Las Patronas? We heard about them because they help us and give us food. Things like water, drinks, some tortillas and frijoles (beans). They help you a lot with that, because sometimes you don't have any food nor any money to buy anything," says Oscar, who admits he is barely out of high school. Back in La Patrona, the next train has come over the brow of the hill. As they have for almost 20 years, Norma Romero and a few local women wait at the sides of the tracks, bags of food and bottles of fresh drinking water in hand. Las Patronas took their name from their village. But it has a wider religious connotation too, patrona meaning patron saint in Spanish. For the migrants, who grab a potentially life-saving donation from a woman they may never see again, the name could not be more apt.

BBC News, 31 July 2014

Proposed questions for discussion, which could be addressed also considering Module 1 and 2:

  • Are las Patronas carrying out actions that the State(s) would be expected to perform? Please explain.
  • Do you think that the State(s) could be in breach of their positive or negative obligations? Please explain. In the affirmative, how could the accountability of the State be triggered in practice?
  • What rights of smuggled migrants - if any - are las Patronas contributing to giving effect to?
  • Are you aware of initiatives like las Patronas in your home country? Please elaborate.
  • What is your opinion about the actions carried out by las Patronas?

Exercise 3: Political Initiatives

It is suggested that students be divided in small groups, with each critically analysing one of the political processes and initiatives mentioned in the section ' Political Initiatives'.

The groups would then present the respective assignment to the rest of the class (app. 5 min).

Note : To carry out this activity, it is advisable to instruct students accordingly during the previous class so that they may carry out additional research.

Alternatively, this exercise could be assigned as homework.

Next: Possible class structure
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