The crisis of mass migration of refugees from Africa was not caused by European countries, but by autocratic leaders, a European official said on Tuesday.
Roeland van de Geer, European Union ambassador to South Africa, said the cause of the crisis in North Africa “lies squarely with its own leaders”.
Speaking after a meeting between President Jacob Zuma and the diplomatic corps, he told reporters he believed that this lack of democratic values was driving the multitudes to risk life an limb and life to reach Europe.
“So we lay the responsibility for what is happening in the countries of the Maghreb clearly in the hands of the leaders who were dictators and did not respect democracy,” said Van der Geer.
Earlier on Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma blamed European countries for the Libyan refugee crisis.
Addressing numerous ambassadors and high commissioners in Pretoria, Zuma said European countries had ignored the African Union’s proposal for peaceful intervention in Libya, destabilising the country, and should therefore welcome refugees from the north African country.
“What has happened? The consistent, systematic bombing by NATO forces undermined the security and caused conflicts that are continuing in Libya and neighbouring countries. That is why we have this problem (of refugees). It has not just popped up from nowhere,” Zuma said at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria.
Zuma said African countries were ignored when they repeatedly proposed an alternative road map to the “destabilisation” of Libya.
“Today, those who were part of destabilising that part of the world don’t want to accept the refugees. It is their responsibility. They caused it and they must now address it. That is of absolute importance. It is the painful truth,” said Zuma.
He said South Africa was ready to assist Libya in post-conflict reconstruction and development projects. The southern African economic powerhouse also offered to help Libya with reconciliation efforts, and to formulate a Constitution for Libya.
Libya’s long time leader Muammar Gaddafi died in October 2011 during the Battle of Sirte. He was captured by National Transitional Council forces after he had been hiding in a culvert. He was killed shortly after his capture.
On Tuesday, Zuma claimed that before the 2011 Arab Spring, and the killing of Gaddafi, there were no refugees in the northern part of Africa.
“It was all quiet. Things were normal in the north of Africa. It was the action taken, the bombarding of Libya, and the killing of its leader, that opened the floodgates, firstly for serious tensions within Libya.
“The beginning of the refugee (crisis), at least from the African side, was triggered by that undermining of the security situation. As people grapple with the problem of refugees, we forget easily, we might think Africa suddenly has a problem where refugees are flooding Europe,” said Zuma.
Commenting on the Syrian crisis, Zuma said European countries should not shut down their doors to the multitudes of refugees.
“It took the painful drowning of a four-year-old Syrian child to shake the world into action. Attempts to shut the borders by some European countries will not assist the situation,” said Zuma.
He said the international community must not support external military interference “or any action in Syria” that is not in line with United Nations’ charters.
“As immediate relief for the refugees, we call on our European Union partners as well as Syria’s regional neighbours to assist the Syrian refugees, in full accordance and compliance with all Human Rights and Humanitarian laws,” said Zuma.
“We pledge our support to the EU as it grapples with this challenging situation.”