When children, women, and men escape the torture camps in Libya via the Mediterranean Sea, something odd seems to happen, more frequently now than before. The names ascribed to them change, as if the passage through the sea and their growing proximity to Europe altered their identity.
Once described as individuals or just people, as migrants or refugees, as victims or survivors of torture, sexual violence, and even slavery, they become something else: criminals, hijackers, and pirates. Such a transformation of identity could be observed merely a few days ago when a migrant boat sought to reach Europe from Libya. […]
E.U. institutions and member states are fully aware of this Libyan hell, and yet, nothing is being done to improve the situation. Quite the opposite is the case: despite its fluidity, the Mediterranean Sea is continuously turned into a “hard” border, with European states and E.U. agencies colluding with north African authoritarian regimes and even Libyan militias and smugglers to stem outward migration flows.
What I have termed a “refoulment industry,” the concerted effort to return escaping migrants by boat to northern Africa, normalizes breaches of international and maritime laws and refugee conventions. The decline via this central migration route has been dramatic: while over 119,000 escaped Libya in 2017, the figure dropped to about 23,000 in 2018. And so far in 2019, merely 500 people have successfully fled.
For those who fall victim to this refoulment industry, the hope to ever escape the Libyan hell is dwindling. And yet, many will not cease to locate escape routes; they simply have to. They have invested heavily to fund their migration projects, often with the support of families and communities. Their odyssey was costly and did not begin in Libya but long before, when they had to cross several borders, including the dangerous Saharan desert.