Anger over EU's 'slave trade' rhetoric as naval operations begin in Mediterranean

Anger over EU's 'slave trade' rhetoric as naval operations begin in Mediterranean

22 May 2015

Excerpt from The Guardian, 21 May 2015

Migration experts condemn ‘entirely self-serving’ language concealing the fact that refugees are trying to escape Africa of their own free will

More than 300 leading migration experts have denounced plans for military action against Libyan smugglers as reminiscent of the actions of countries that enabled the 18th century slave trade. Attempts to justify military intervention by comparisons with 18th century suppression of the slave trade were “entirely self-serving” and based on “a dangerous perversion of history”.

The academics’ provocative intervention follows the EU’s decision on Monday to begin naval operations that will target the complex web of Libyan smugglers who ferry hundreds of thousands of migrants towards Europe every year. In the runup to the decision, some EU politicians equated the planned mission with attempts to end the slave trade in the 18th century. The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, described people-smugglers as “the slave traders of the 21st century” who “should be brought to justice”.

But 300 migration experts from universities including Oxford, Harvard, the London School of Economics, the School of Oriental and African Studies, Yale and Princeton have turned Renzi’s argument on its head, arguing that it is in fact the actions of the EU that most recall the mindset of 18th-century slave states. They claim that by attempting to destroy smuggling networks without providing alternative safe routes out of north Africa, Europe seeks to restrict the movement of Africans with actions that evoke those of slave traders in centuries past.

Writing on the website OpenDemocracy, the 300 say: “To attempt to crush [people-smuggling] with military force is not to take a noble stand against the evil of slavery, or even against ‘trafficking’. It is simply to continue a long tradition in which states, including slave states of the 18th and 19th century, use violence to prevent certain groups of human beings from moving freely.”