Europe’s envoy to South Africa has reacted to President Jacob Zuma’s hard-hitting comments on Nato’s involvement in the refugee crisis by acknowledging the crisis but blaming it on “leaders or dictators who did not respect democracy”.
Zuma pulled no punches yesterday as he told European leaders that they were to blame for the war in Libya, which opened a floodgate of people seeking refuge in other countries.
An unapologetic Zuma charged that they should own up and take the blame after interfering in African matters.
He said African leaders had a road map to resolve the situation in Libya but were ignored. This was later followed by attacks on Libya and the killing of the North African country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
“I’m sure it will be appropriate to underline this. Before the Arab spring and before the killing of Gaddafi there were no refugees flocking the European counties. It was all quiet. Things were normal,” he said at a comprehensive briefing in Pretoria on international relations. It was attended by foreign ambassadors, high commissioners and some of his Cabinet ministers.
“What happened? The consistent and systematic bombing of Nato [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] forces undermined the security and caused conflicts that are continuing in Libya and neighbouring countries; that’s why we have this problem. I don’t think we should forget that. It did not just pop out from nowhere. It’s been as a result of interference.”
Backed by a United Nations Security Council mandate, Nato intervened in the situation in Libya, citing its responsibility to protect civilians threatened by the bloody rampages of the late Gaddafi. Nato launched airstrikes, which helped push back Gaddafi’s forces.
South Africa signed and supported the resolution to bomb Libya.
Nato forces regularly targeted locations believed to be used by forces loyal to Gaddafi.
This eventually paved way for rebel fighters on the ground to sweep into Tripoli and bring down Gaddafi.
The British government, together with the governments of the United States and France, had used their power as three of the only five veto-wielding members of the security council to impose a resolution authorising “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya. It included sanctions and an arms embargo and enforced a travel ban and asset freeze on Gaddafi, his inner circle and members of his family.
Former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, and British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Tripoli and Benghazi where they reportedly were received with jubilation and hailed as heroes.
Before he was killed, an outspoken Gaddafi described the bombing campaign as an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya’s oil.
Meanwhile Zuma, who later mingled with the foreign diplomats over lunch, lamented how the countries who were rejecting refugees today were the same ones that triggered the civil war in Libya – which led to civilians crossing the borders to look for a better life in neighbouring countries.
“It is their responsibility. They caused it and it must be addressed. It is a painful truth but it is the truth
“It was the action taken, the bombardment of Libya and the killing of its leader, that opened the floodgates … for serious tensions and conflict within Libya and therefore the security was totally undermined as tribes fought. This was the beginning therefore of refugees, at least from African side, triggered by the undermining of that security situation.
“I think we should not forget this.”
Zuma said Africa had the same problem of refugees flocking in their numbers.
But he made his allegiance known: he stands by the people of Libya.
South Africa, he added, was ready to help that country and to share its experiences with reconciliation.
It’s estimated that more than 19 million people have been forced to flee their home countries because of war, persecution and oppression. Thousands more from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa are heading to Europe, sparking fear among its leaders about an immigration crisis.
A Syrian toddler, dead on a Turkish beach after the boat in which his family was attempting to flee to Europe capsized at sea, cast the spotlight at the extent of the crisis.
Head of the European delegation to South Africa, Roeland van de Geer, hit back and said that it was African dictators who were to blame for their citizens fleeing to Europe.
“I’m not saying we don’t make mistakes, we are human beings, we are committed to international laws relating to refugees. But we lay responsibility of what’s happening … on leaders or dictators who did not respect democracy. But it doesn’t mean that those genuine refugee can’t count on the Europeans. It’s not easy but we will have to work hard to receive everyone with dignity and respect.”