French President Emmanuel Macron is proposing military action against human traffickers in Libya to combat migrant slave trading. Picture: AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Johannesburg – French President Emmanuel Macron is proposing military action against human traffickers in Libya to combat migrant slave trading, France 24 reports.

Macron has also called for an "urgent operation" to evacuate the hundreds of thousands of African victims from Libya following harrowing video evidence of mostly sub-Saharans being auctioned at “slave markets” in the North African country.

“Human trafficking is a criminal offence," Macron said during an interview on the sidelines of the African Union (AU)-European Union (EU) summit in the Ivory Coast capital Abidjan on Thursday.

"It’s not enough for us just to denounce the problem but we must act collectively in attacking these human trafficking networks, which operate from the Sahel all the way to Libya and have connections that enable them to reach all the way across the Mediterranean."

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The French president wasn’t proposing a declaration of war on an already war-torn country but “concrete, military and police actions on the ground to trace back these networks.”

“These smugglers are deeply linked to many terrorist networks and feed, sometimes finance, sometimes are the same as those who make war with us and who kill people every day in much of northern Africa,” said Macron.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, said between 400 000 and 700 000 African migrants are living in camps in Libya, often under “inhuman” conditions.

Echoing Macron, Mahamat stressed the urgency of removing the thousands of migrants, including women and children, from the camps as he addressed the closure of the AU-EU summit.

At least 3 800 migrants in one camp in the Libyan capital Tripoli need to be removed as soon as possible, Mahamat said. Most of them come from West Africa.

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“That’s just one camp,” he said. “The Libyan government has told us there are 42,” and some contain an even larger number of migrants.

More than 423 000 migrants had been identified in the North African country at the end of November, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Libya has been used as a transit point by desperate African refugees trying to reach Europe in search of a better life.

Reports of their abuse, including killings, rape and torture in the detention camps have made the headlines repeatedly over the last few years.

Hundreds have also died at sea after human traffickers packed them like sardines into unseaworthy boats with many of the vessels subsequently overturning in the Mediterranean as they attempted to reach Europe.

However, recent CNN footage of men being sold at an auction for as little as $400 (about R4500), to work as farm labourers, in the Libyan capital Tripoli tipped the scale of international outrage.

At the summit on Thursday, the European and African leaders released a communique agreeing to “accelerate exponentially” efforts to repatriate the migrants and vowed to combat the crimes committed against them.

The leaders also pledged to do more to help the migrants stranded in the Libya’s squalid detention centres.