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19th Aug 2018

EU mulls Turkey-type migrant deal with Libya

  • People detained in centres in Libya are often exploited and abused (Photo: Internews Network)

The Maltese EU presidency wants a deal with Libya to curb migrant flows that would be loosely modelled on the EU-Turkey agreement.

A Maltese EU presidency spokesman told this website on Thursday (12 January) that Valletta and other EU capitals would examine the idea after Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat spoke of it earlier in the day.

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The Libya accord was “something the presidency will look into together with all the member states”, he said.

Muscat himself had told press in the Maltese capital that there was "appetite" at EU level, including from Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, to "replicate the Turkey deal in the southern Mediterranean”.

He said that "Libya is on the brink of being a failed state".

"I think that there should be a political signal from the European Union that it is ready to engage with Libya," Muscat said.

The spokesman told EUobserver that Malta wanted “the same political focus on the central Mediterranean, including Libya, as there was on Turkey”.

He added that the potential Libya pact “would obviously not be identical to the Turkey deal, but could be based on a similar approach”.

The EU's migrant swap deal with Turkey was signed off last March to stop people from crossing the Aegean to reach the Greek islands.

The EU agreed, in exchange, to finance refugee projects in Turkey to the tune of several billion euros and to lift short-term visas for Turkish nationals.

The EU had a migrant deal with Libya in 2010 while Muammar Gaddafi, its late leader, was in power.

Muscat noted that the Gaddafi-era legal framework was still in place.

Libya's UN-backed unity government has limited reach and little state control throughout a country wrecked by years of lawlessness, however.

The Maltese proposal comes days after Italy reopened its embassy in Libya's capital city Tripoli - a first for any Western country.

Italy's foreign minister Angelino Alfano at the time described the embassy as a move to impose "more controls on migrant departures".

Europe's director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Vincent Cochetel, has described the Libya plan as a non-starter, however.

"The EU Turkey agreement cannot be a blueprint for Libya. First there is no government in Libya, so let's not even talk about," he told MEPs in the European Parliament's civil liberties committee.

Over 180,000 people seeking better lives reached Italy from the north African coast in 2016.

Another 1,100 have arrived so far this year. Eleven have already died.

Fears are emerging that the upcoming spring and summer months may trigger a spike in the number of arrivals.

"Come next spring, we will have another crisis," said Muscat.

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