25th Oct 2016

Libya violence puts EU border mission in doubt

  • The UN says more than 100,000 people have reached Italy so far this year (Photo: USEmbMalta)

The EU’s flagship border mission for Libya remains parked in Tunisia, as deteriorating security conditions put migrants at greater risk.

The operation - Eubam Libya - was launched in May last year to build up the post-war country’s Border Guard and Naval Coast Guard.

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But since 31 July all its European personnel have moved to Tunisia due to rising violence in Tripoli.

A diplomatic source said it is still in contact with Libyan authorities and organises study trips for Libyan officers outside the country.

But the EU’s External Action Service is currently rethinking what to do with Eubam amid little hope of its returning to Libya to fulfill its original mandate.

Fighting between rival militias over the weekend saw Operation Dawn - a coalition of Islamist fighters and paramilitaries from Misrata, in western Libya - seize control of Tripoli’s main airport and proclaim a new government.

The diplomatic source noted that with the rivals drafting in more and more recruits amid “poisonous rhetoric”, the conflict is becoming “very difficult”.

The situation threatens to halt the country’s economic recovery, with oil production currently between 350,000 and 550,000 barrels per day, compared to 700,000 late last year and 1.4 million before the 2010 war.

With Libya the main launching post for African boat migrants to Italy, the diplomatic source added that the breakdown in law and order also makes it “likely that the safety of migrants is even more at risk than before”.

Libya’s coast has about 80 sites where human traffickers can launch small crafts to Europe.

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, estimates that 100,000 people got to Italy by sea so far this year, shattering previous records, while more than 1,300 went missing or died on the way.

The Italian navy on Friday (23 August) rescued 1,445 people on two separate crafts. It also found 79 dead bodies on board.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a third boat sank off the Libyan coast the same day, claiming at least 250 lives.

For her part, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, said she will meet Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, on Wednesday to discuss what the EU can do to help.

“I also reiterate my call to [other] member states to provide assistance to Mediterranean countries facing increased migratory and asylum pressure, in particular by resettling people from refugee camps outside the EU”, she noted.

Alfano himself told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that Italy might be forced to scale down its migrant rescues, amid rising hostility in the country.

He spoke to the newspaper after Matteo Salvini, from Italy’s anti-immigrant Lega Nord party, posted a message saying "Stop the Invasion" on his Facebook page on Sunday.

"Either Europe takes responsibility or Italy will have to make its own decisions. Sadly, Salvini's words show that in Italy an ugly extreme right wing is being born," Alfano said.

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