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8th May 2021

Tusk says 'alarming' numbers of migrants in Libya

  • Tusk warned MEPs that the EU-Turkey deal raise ethical and legal doubts (Photo: European Parliament)

An “alarming” number of migrants have reached Libya to make their way to Italy, European Council president Donald Tusk warned on Wednesday (13 April).

“The numbers of would-be migrants in Libya are alarming,” he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

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He said the EU must stand ready to help Italy and Malta, adding that it acted “much too late” on the Western Balkan route via Turkey and Greece.

He warned against repeating the same errors in the Mediterranean, but said a new EU border guard force would not be ready before the end of the year.

Concern is growing that migrants would divert to Italy after EU the closed the Western Balkan corridor.

Tusk spoke one day after Austria announced tighter checks on its Italian border to prepare for a potential surge in people.

According to UN figures, around 12,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Italy since the beginning of March. The figure is a sharp increase on February (3,800).

Tusk said that the deal between the EU and Turkey to reduce the numbers of migrants to Greece “is not perfect.”

“We are fully aware of its risks and weaknesses … everything depends on how it will be implemented,” he told the MEPs.

“The deal with Turkey and closing the Western Balkans route raise doubts of an ethical nature, and also legal, as in the case of Turkey. I share some of these doubts, too,” he said.

Human rights groups have said the pact could result in mass returns of asylum seekers who would not receive adequate protection in Turkey.

Tusk and Merkel

The deal was concluded at a summit on 7 March when German chancellor Angela Merkel put forward a surprise proposal, bypassing Tusk.

The former Polish PM sympathises with EU states that want to secure external borders more than with Merkel’s “welcome” to refugees.

Tusk on Wednesday said that relocation of refugees from Greece “is not the main tool of our policy”, referring to another Merkel project.

“We would make a nake if it became the main tool of our policy, because it would be a simple incentive for further, even greater migration flows,” he said.

Tusk predicted that the European Border and Coast Guard force will face delays.

The European Commission’s controversial proposal says the force can be posted to EU external frontiers in emergencies even if the host state does not want it.

Peak season

The Dutch presidency of the EU hopes to wrap up legislation on the project quickly so that it can be operational by summer - a peak season for migrant arrivals.

Tusk said he supports it, but added: “This body will not be operational in time for this year, as this is not possible.”

He warned that if the EU loses control of its external borders it could cause “political catastrophes.”

He said the security implications of unchecked migration could cause “chaos in the EU … and the triumph of populism and extremism.”

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