21st Sep 2020

EU signs up to 'unclear' migration pact with Libya

  • An Italy-Libyan pact has led to fewer migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean this summer (Photo: nobordernetwork)

The European Union has cautiously agreed to allocate €50 million for projects aimed at improving Libyan treatment of refugees, mostly coming from African conflict zones and heading to Europe. The deal was branded as "worryingly vague" by human rights groups, as Libya does not even recognise the term "asylum seeker."

The financial assistance of €50 million over the next three years "will not be handed over to Libyan authorities directly," but will finance contractors in projects adhering EU rules, a spokesman for the European Commission said on Tuesday (5 October).

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The funds, part of a "co-operation agenda" with the north African nation that includes a "dialogue on refugees", was signed by two commissioners – Cecilia Malmstrom dealing with home affairs and Stefan Fuele in charge of relations with EU's southern neighbours – and their counterparts in the Libyan capital.

Under the non-binding agreement, Libya is set to receive money and assistance from EU experts in adopting new legislation on refugee protection and to upgrade its border surveillance systems. A broader dialogue on migration issues between the EU and other African countries is also mentioned in the agreement.

The mere fact of having started to talk about refugees – a concept that is not even recognised by the authoritarian administration of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi – is seen by Brussels as a breakthrough in EU relations with Tripoli.

Successive attempts by former justice and home affairs commissioner Jacques Barrot to meet the Libyan authorities were snubbed as soon as he mentioned "asylum seekers" and "human rights," one commission official recalls.

In the past two years, Tripoli has intensified its crackdown on refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, Darfur and western Africa, as part of a bilateral deal with Italy, much to the outrage of international organisations and watchdogs.

Despite the commission's optimistic statements, human rights groups question whether the Gaddafi government will halt its random arrests, torture and deportations to the desert of refugees from Somalia, Eritrea and Darfur.

"What worries us is the vagueness of the deal," Annelise Baldaccini from Amnesty International told this website. "We do not know what the EU has signed up to. It mentions for instance addressing the burden of recognised refugees and rejected asylum seekers, but it does not say what this involves."

The human rights NGO has been monitoring the treatment of migrants by the Libyan authorities for a number of years.

"The problem is that Libya does not even allow them to claim asylum, as it treats everybody as an illegal immigrant," Ms Baldaccini says.

Another worrying development, in the expert's view, is the "clear evasion" by the EU from opposing Libya's June closure of the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - the UN's refugee agency.

Pressed by journalists on the matter on Tuesday, commission spokesman Michele Cercone said that this was "a very sensitive issue" and that his institution was hoping negotiations between Libya and the UN would ultimately allow the office to be re-opened.

Meanwhile, Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa has renewed an appeal for EU assistance to the tune of €5 billion a year in order to stop "clandestine immigration" to Europe.

In August, Colonel Gaddafi put it even more bluntly, asking for the same amount "to prevent Europe from turning black."

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