In the wake of the CNN report on human auctions in Libya, there has rightly been a surge in concern for the thousands of Africans languishing in inhumane conditions in detention camps. Political leaders in Europe and Africa, including UN Secretary-General António Guterres and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, have condemned the situation. After years of flailing diplomacy and lonely advocacy, it seems the world is finally ready to talk about the humanitarian disaster in Libya.
But while this new wave of attention is welcome and necessary, it does raise key questions: Why did it take so long to have this near-unified voice of condemnation on a well-researched and well-covered issue that has been in the public domain for the better part of the last decade? Why now and not before? And more importantly, what does this delayed reaction say about race and racism in international humanitarian work?
This information is not new. International organizations, politicians, and journalists have all reported the dire conditions facing African migrants in Libya from at least 2010.
The vast majority of the world’s refugees and migrants today are Asian and African, unlike in the 1940s when the original instruments of protection were negotiated.
Bottom line: Countries only want “good migrants” – where “good” means primarily white and/or wealthy. Helping black and brown bodies is couched in the polite language of “helping them where they are”. Race and racism are at the heart of the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis, but, to date, humanitarianism has been reluctant to talk about it in stark terms.
[Read full IRIN article]