The toppling of long-term leader Muammer Gaddaffi in 2011 led to a power vacuum and instability, with no authority in full control. With two rival administrations and a UN backed Government of National Unity Libya has descended into a state of anarchy. This lack of central control has constructed estimates of up to 1,700 militia groups in Libya and has led to extremism flourishing with estimates of 10,000 ISIS fighters.
A high level of irregular migrants attempting to enter the European Union is currently viewed as one of the most topical and contentious issues discussed amongst European States today. Since 2014, Europe has witnessed an influx of irregular migrants on an unprecedented scale attempting to gain access to the EU. These irregular migrants are fleeing war and persecution predominantly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea.
Libya has become a well-established route to Europe as irregular migrants pass through a country marked by abuse and corruption. This lawless land provides fertile ground for smugglers. A tangled and complex hierarchical structure ensures migrants are transported undetected from the Saharan desert all the way to the Libyan coast and consigned onto an overcrowded, unseaworthy boat. The European migrant crisis has led to smuggling becoming an immensely profitable business, with payments of up to $2,500 per person.
What is the European Union doing to stop this inhumane trafficking business? EU mission Operation Sophia was launched in 2015 to disrupt the business model of people smuggling. An inquiry from the UK House of Lords EU external Affairs Committee showed Operation Sophia had arrested 50 smugglers, however, these are all low-level smugglers and not the influential figures within the smuggling trade. Without being able to operate in Libyan waters, the EU is helpless in penetrating the smuggler’s network, in particular how they operate on Libyan territory. Cutting off smuggling networks is an imperative step to curtail the vast numbers of migrants dying at sea in their attempt to reach European shores.
Despite the gravity of the situation there is not much appetite in Western capitals for a long-term response to the current situation. Libyans have demonstrated little capacity to keep their transition from derailing; representatives of Western governments and international organisations must implement a cohesive and optimistic plan to unite Libyans. A united Libya can have the power to stop the smugglers and stop the harrowing tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean.