Outsourcing, Out of Mind: the Failure of EU Migration Policies?

05 January 2018 /

Recent reports exposed to the world the disastrous situation in Libya, where people flying poverty and insecurity are facing even worst living conditions, instead of finding comfort and hope. The role of the European Union has been discussed about this issue, as Libya is one of the countries in which migration policy is outsourced.

Disastrous Situation in Libya: Human Rights at Stake

The EU-Turkey deal to deter migration and slow down the number of arrivals on the European soil has been quite controversial and criticised (Cogou, 2017). But it might actually be nothing compared to the one with Libya. If at the beginning the cooperation between the EU and Libya has  been quite forgotten, the revelation of the situation on the Libyan ground by NGOs and newspapers has been a blow to the silence around this agreement.

Videos of people being sold as slaves, pictures of deplorable living infrastructures, testimonies of atrocities… The report of CNN (Elbagir, Razek, Platt, and Jones, 2017), published in mid-November 2017, has been backed by many others analyses – amongst several, Amnesty International – which  denounce the infamies perpetrated in Libya. Besides, reports also highlight the role of the EU, denouncing the responsibility it has in this issue, and even calling European countries as “complicit” (Amnesty International, 2017). Indeed, Libya is considered from the EU to be a transit country, which means that people from a country – in this case from Africa, for instance Eritrea or Somalia – are passing through it with the aim of going elsewhere – here, the EU after crossing the sea. From the Mediterranean Sea, Libya is usually considered as the only gateway to reach Europe (Kingsley, 2017).

However, as the EU has been facing an important number of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers since 2015 with what is now commonly called the ‘migration crisis’, the EU member states decided to negotiate agreements with transit countries as to somehow reduce the number of refugees coming to its territory (Blanchard, 2006). Libya has been one of them. To be precise, the Italian government first decided to increase cooperation with Libya in the domain of migration. The deal was first criticised by some neighbouring countries; nonetheless, the EU more or less later backed the agreement.

Cooperation on Migration: Who is to Blame?

After reaching an EU-Turkey deal on migration in March 2016, a similar kind of work has been discussed with Libya in late 2016, as to help Italy with the flow of people coming by the sea. In fact, due to the political situation in Libya in the aftermath of Colonel Gaddafi, reaching an agreement was hard to do (Asiedu, 2017). Nevertheless, the EU tries to help the situation of migrants on the ground in Libya but also at sea by implementing measures, notably with financial means. In terms of the EU financial cooperation with Libya, we are talking about €182 million since 2014 that have been spent on projects related to migration (European Commission, 2017).

According notably to Amnesty international, the European Union and the member states’ governments hold a lot of responsibility in the tragic conditions of migrants and refugees in Libya. Indeed, report highlights the fact that the money given by the EU for Libyan coastguards does not necessarily serve a good cause due to corruption, and the link between coastguards and smugglers (Amnesty International, 2017).

In sum, outsourcing migration is one of the solutions the European Union found in order to keep on eyes on the migration flows as well as to try to find a compromise between the diverging member states’ voices. Nonetheless, the issues the outsourcing of this particular policy engendered have a great impact on human rights, which triggers a number of reactions from the international community.

If the EU Failed, What could be Done Now?

Acknowledging the tragic situation of migrants on the Libyan soil, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein appealed on the 14th November 2017 to the international community to act against the atrocities in Libya: “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” (OHCHR, 2017). Moreover, he heavily criticised the EU and Italian actions in training Libyan coastguards with the aim of intercepting boats to secure EU frontiers.

This has led some European leaders to take a stand on the situation. The French president Emmanuel Macron therefore said that he is willing to set up a plan to rescue migrants trapped in Libya and calls for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (Grinberg, 2017). The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker declared that legal paths should be opened for safe migration (Hofmann, 2017). Nonetheless, not all member states seem to be on the same wavelength, as the members of the Visegrad group declared being willing to give €35 million to protect the Libyan border (Visegrad Group, 2017) prioritising securitisation over human rights.

If blaming only one country, one government or the EU as a whole for the problem in Libya does not seem to be either possible or constructive, actions have to be taken in order to help people whose lives are endangered. However, Europe in this sense is far from being a role model, as witnessed with the outsourcing of migration policy. If outsourcing enables the EU member states to turn a blind eye on the situation over their borders, it should not be done at the expense of human rights, that the EU is – at least on the discursive level – so keen on protecting.

Elodie Thevenin is studying for a Double Degree Programme in European Studies at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland and the Institute of Political Studies in Strasbourg, Franc


Asiedu, M. (2017). The EU-Libya Migrant Deal: a Deal of Convenience. E-International Relations. Retrieved December 2017 from: http://www.e-ir.info/2017/04/11/the-eu-libya-migrant-deal-a-deal-of-convenience/

Blanchard, E. (2006). Qu’est-ce que l’externalisation. Migreurop, Observatoire des frontières. Retrieved December 2017 from: http://www.migreurop.org/article974.html#nb5

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Visegrad Group | V4 to contribute to Libya border control. 52017). Revtrieved December 2017 from: http://www.visegradgroup.eu/news/v4-to-contribute-to

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