Renzi Demands EU Hit Traffickers to End Modern Slavery

European Union governments must send officials to Africa to help prevent the trafficking of humans in a new slave trade, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on the eve of a special EU summit called to discuss ways to mitigate further tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea.

Renzi, addressing lawmakers in Rome on Wednesday, called on Europe to act after between 700 and 900 migrants died when their boat sank north of Libya at the weekend. As the humanitarian crisis shows no sign of abating, Europe, in collaboration with the United Nations, “must intervene in Nigeria, in Sudan, to the south of Libya,” he said.

“We are fighting a war against human traffickers,” Renzi told the Senate, while urging the EU to strengthen its presence in maritime patrolling operations in the Mediterranean. “There is no parallel in history for this except for slavery,” he said. “What happened in West Africa centuries ago is happening today.”

With Italy the main landfall for refugees making the journey across the central Mediterranean, Renzi joined with Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to call for Thursday’s extraordinary summit in Brussels. EU leaders are due to discuss a 10-point plan including the destruction of boats used by smugglers, reinforcing naval rescue missions and encouraging member nations to accept more refugees.

Renzi said Italy was working to ensure the summit would also consider means to discourage people from leaving their homeland “with investments in the countries of origin.” He hinted at putting more international officials on the ground to deal directly with migration issues and help tackle the problem at source.

Horn of Africa

In an op-ed published in the New York Times on Wednesday, he called for a similar initiative to the EU’s Horn of Africa mission against piracy to be directed against trafficking, saying that vessels “should be put out of operation.”

“We are all partially responsible for the trafficking emergency,” Renzi said.

While leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande also pledged to act after the weekend sinking, possibly the worst such disaster in the Mediterranean, foreign affairs analysts caution that the EU plan is unlikely to stem the flow especially from Libya, the nexus for many traffickers. Both UN and Libyan approval would probably be needed for military action on the Libyan coast or territory.

Search and Rescue

The disaster made the EU realize it can no longer leave any aspect of the problem to individual member states, yet the EU’s reach is limited, said Spyros Economides, senior lecturer in international relations at the London School of Economics.

“The only real thing the EU can do is beef up policing and search-and-rescue in the Mediterranean,” said Economides. “Nobody is going to go into Libya and try to restore order. And what will bombing of Islamic State bases in Libya do to halt the flow of refugees?”

As for improving conditions in home countries, refugees crossing the Mediterranean “come from all over the world -- Afghanistan, Kurdistan, central Africa,” Economides said. “The EU can’t just pay them all to stay home.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a speech in Berlin earlier this week, urged action in the first instance to combat traffickers and transporters, and stop further deaths “on our doorstep.” Germany will also work intensively, with the help of NGOs, on tackling “the source of this wave,” Merkel said.

“These issues won’t be overcome in a single step,” she said. “Many, many things will play a role. The instability in Libya at the moment is a huge barrier to taking political action at all.”

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