Among the horrors of 2017, perhaps none were more shocking than the revelation that African migrants and refugees were being sold as slaves in Libya. The international outrage was resounding, and the reaction from the United Nations swift. It ramped up ongoing efforts to airlift thousands from detention centers in Tripoli. But it did not take them to their intended destination of Europe.
Instead, it flew them back to their starting place: Sub-Saharan Africa.
Since the start of 2017, the IOM (a UN agency) has brought nearly 100,000 migrants back to their home countries, an astonishing increase from the 2,775 voluntary returns carried out in 2016. Half of those saved in 2017 came at the end of the year in response to reports of slavery in Libya.
To date, IOM estimates there are up to one million migrants in limbo in Libya. The drastic uptick is actually a logjam, reflecting a controversial new Italian policy to intercept migrant boats in the Mediterranean and hand them over to Libyan authorities. It's dramatically curbed the number of migrants arriving on Italian shores. But aid groups have harshly criticized the move, as migrants and refugees are then vulnerable to winding up in abusive Libyan detention centers, or worse.
While Libya sits at the nexus of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, security experts warn that ISIS is regrouping inside the failed state. In response, the Libyan government has coordinated airstrikes and counter-terrorism operations with the U.S. and European militaries, killing untold numbers of ISIS fighters in recent months. Those that are captured are brought to a prison, located at the Tripoli airport. Although ISIS no longer controls Libyan territory, the terror group has increased its attacks on the country—and the threat of the terror group returning to power is quite real.