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The EU’s Libyan project

Posted by Richard on July 6, 2005

Is it just me, or is there something chilling about Germany and Italy setting up labor camps in Libya "to facilitate the monitored supply of unskilled labor" to the European Union?

According to, the EU is deploying a task force to work with the Libyan coast guard to intercept African migrants — "economic refugees" — in the Mediterranean. But there’s more, because the EU does want migrant workers (emphasis added):

Simultaneously transit camps, for screening migrants as to their suitability as workers in the legally registered labor force, will be established on the Libyan coastline. "Europe" desperately needs "more migration" declared Franco Frattini, European Commission Vice-President for Justice, Freedom and Security, Monday in Dublin. Amnesty International protested the German inspired border policy on the northern coast of Africa. Libya does not have a "functioning system of asylum" and is known for its "catastrophic prison conditions," Amnesty says in its statement. 

What hope is there for a government that combines the departments or agencies responsible for justice, freedom, and security? But I digress. The story explains the EU’s goals and plans further:

Not all of those migrants stranded in the camps are destined to be held prisoner and … deported back to Sub-Saharan Africa or to Arab countries. According to studies of the EU Commissioner for "Justice, Freedom and Security" there is a much more desperate need to have people, who will "fill up the labor market" and will "offset the rising costs of our welfare system." This objective can be better reached through the "effective channeling of the flow of the legal migration" and "combating" the illegal, explains Frattini. … According to this scheme, a contingent of cheap migrants will be kept available in Libya, who, when needed, can be transported over the Mediterranean and after sufficient exploitation, be sent back again.

What about the language barrier? And how will the EU ensure that, after "sufficient exploitation," the migrants can be sent back? They’ve thought of those concerns:

In order to facilitate the monitored supply of unskilled labor and to avoid that their productive potential is hampered by speech barriers, Fratini proposes simple language courses, paid for by the EU that would be given "in the countries of origin". Therefore migrants selected in Libya can learn a few words in German, French or Spanish – depending on to which country they are destined – in order to be able to understand work instructions and to have something to do in the camp until they are dispatched. Knowledge surpassing what is needed for the daily work is not necessary, because the migrants will literally be confined to a barracks situation.

Let’s see, the migrant workers will be kept in "camps" in Libya and "confined to a barracks situation" in Europe. And there seems to be some conflating of two different functions of the Libyan camps: imprisoning illegal migrants and screening legal migrant labor. I wonder how the Libyans will ensure that the labor supply matches the EU’s demand. I wonder if the EU cares.

The article indulges in some heavy speculation/analysis/editorializing, to disturbing effect, although the awkward English and obliqueness of these statements make the author’s intent unclear:

The Libyan Project is noticeably patterned after previous models and reminds of examples of concentrated camps, as had been typically used for profit maximizing processes within colonial and industrialization policy. This is the organized method of bringing together large masses of people, who with minimal costs of reproduction perform different tasks of work. The key to success for large-scale projects such as this, depend upon a reservoir of labor force at the constant disposal, if necessary they can again be set free or be totally used up (death).

I did a double take over "concentrated camps" and checked the German-language version of the article to see how it appeared. It’s "konzentrierter Lagerhaltung," so I guess "concentrated" is an accurate translation. At least the German version didn’t say "Konzentrationslager."

I wonder what "Arbeit Macht Frei" would be in Arabic.

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