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EU intervention in Libya blocks Mediterranean refugee route Open in fullscreen

Ramona Wadi

EU intervention in Libya blocks Mediterranean refugee route

Closing the Mediterranean route will definitely result in less visibility of deaths and exploitation [AFP]

Date of publication: 28 April, 2016

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Comment: Blocking the Mediterranean refugee route serves state interests, while refugees are trapped in a circuit of peril in Libya’s failed state, says Ramona Wadi.

Much rhetoric was regurgitated in the years following NATO's foreign intervention in Libya based on the premise of allegedly protecting civilians, but few have been forthright in admitting that the 2011 aggression with the aim of regime change has instead resulted predictably in  disaster with permanent repercussions.

While attempting to form unity governments at the same time contending with rival parliaments - added to IS' presence in the territory - the international community has carefully separated the issues of political violence from humanitarian consequences.

As a result, the perpetual impunity crafted by the same political actors involved in the 2011 intervention is once again setting the premise for intervention in Libya. In doing so, it attempts to destroy the refugees' trajectory from the Mediterranean to Europe, and as a consequence, facilitate yet another colonial venture in Libya.

Around this time last year, when hundreds of migrants drowned during the perilous journey, the EU discussed the militarisation of Libya and the Mediterranean with a view to disrupting "the business model of smugglers and traffickers networks in the Mediterranean." The end result, however, has been less well-defined.

According to documents released by Wikileaks, the previously planned intervention would be draw on surveillance capabilities with support from Brussels.

In the aftermath of further deaths this month, as well as the hyperbole of "invasion" constructed by the same entities interfering in Arab countries, Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti announced that NATO will be carrying out a naval mission in the Mediterranean – aiming to prevent refugees from reaching a safe haven after leaving Libya.

However, when it comes to new plans for military intervention in Libya, [refugees'] plight becomes convenient fodder for manipulation

Quoted in a report by AFP, Pinotti stated: "At the NATO level we have asked for Operation Active Endeavour to be recalibrated from an anti-terrorist operation in the Eastern Mediterranean to one which oversees the Libyan coast."

Predictably, the scheme has the backing of the US, as declared by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi: "Barack Obama said he was willing to commit NATO assets to block the traffic in human beings and the people smugglers that we refer to as modern slavers."

The plans for NATO's naval mission are reported to be in an advanced stage and will be presented in July at a meeting with the organisation's leaders.

In addition, the newly-formed Libyan unity government is also seeking an agreement with the EU, similar to the one reached between the EU and Turkey earlier in March. Libyan Vice President Ahmed Maiteeq made the appeal during a meeting with Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.

A statement issued after the meeting also expressed Maiteeq's gratitude towards Italy and his "hope that Italy will continue to play a key role in the national reconciliation process towards the construction of a unified and democratic Libya."

Underlying motives

The stark truth behind all the official rhetoric regarding refugees, is that the EU and NATO are carefully disguising a callous disregard for lives lost, whether this occurs in the middle of the Mediterranean or in Libya.

Perhaps a brief recapitulation is necessary here. During the NATO aggression in Libya and in its aftermath, refugees bore the brunt of militia violence after being branded as mercenaries. Apart from a brief mention in the media when refugee camps were targeted by militias, the issue of refugees stranded in Libya was pushed aside.

However, when it comes to new plans for military intervention in Libya, their plight becomes convenient fodder for manipulation. Having contributed to creating incessant chaos which is diluted by repetitive statements and ephemeral hope of transitions and "democratic Libya", the issue of refugees has provided key political players with a relatively stable point from which to launch further military endeavours.

Closing the Mediterranean route will definitely result in less visibility of deaths and exploitation, while concealing the primary factor contributing to human rights violations inflicted upon refugees. The international community is loath to let go of Libya, as demonstrated by recent efforts calling upon countries to recognise the unity government, even as rival factions continue to compete for power in the vacuum unleashed by NATO.

It is clear, however, that the unity government will align itself with international interests in Libya, thus creating yet another stalemate both within the political and the humanitarian realm.

Libya's victims during the NATO intervention were easily burried in the global hype of the 'bombing people to save people' narrative

Politically-speaking, highlighting the existence of the unity government, despite the fact that its power remains limited due to the chaos in the country, will serve to shift focus away from the rival governments – both of which were given Western support overtly and covertly. It is no surprise that the same countries are now supporting the UN-backed unity government, or that the body is seeking to facilitate EU and NATO plans for the country by resorting to the issue of refugees departing from Libya.

The issue of where refugees stand in this cacophony is relevant, yet so intentionally marginalised that it is impossible to fathom a positive outcome. Inflicting annihilation is the latest international tactic for dealing with the vulnerable, while countries scramble for yet another mission that will leave yet more victims.

Libya's victims during the NATO intervention were easily burried in the global hype of the "bombing people to save people" narrative. In the case of refugee victims of violence, the stalemate is even greater. If the naval mission materialises, the issue of death in Libya and neighbouring countries will be consigned to oblivion, obscured by grandiose statements that the Mediterranean's idyllic reputation is being restored.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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