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28th May 2017

No Turkey-type migrant deal with Libya, says EU commission

  • Three hundred thousand people waiting in Libya to cross to Europe (Photo: EEAS)

The European Commission has come out against ideas to replicate the EU-Turkey migrant deal with Libya.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told MEPs in the civil liberties committee on Tuesday (24 January) that the north African state is too unstable.

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  • Avramopoulos: "We cannot duplicate the EU-Turkey statement" (Photo: European Union)

"Let me tell you that we cannot duplicate the EU-Turkey statement, the situation is not similar in Libya," he said.

The proposal was floated by Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat earlier this month.

The Maltese EU presidency, which is chairing member states’ talks on migration policy for the next six months, also said it would look into the possibility.

The EU last March agreed with Turkey to halt migrants from moving to the EU in return for billions in humanitarian aid and political perks, such as visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish nationals.

The deal led migrants to turn to the Libya-Italy sea corridor in greater numbers.

But EU efforts to work with the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, the GNA, have fallen foul of the difficult security situation in the country, where local warlords, militias, and tribal groups continue to undermine the GNA’s authority.

Avramopoulos said the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, had tried, without much success, to establish contact with the Libyan authorities.

"We are far away from saying that we have managed to have a real discussion with them," he said.

He said some 300,000 people are waiting for the right time to cross the Mediterranean sea to reach Italy.

"The country is still open as a corridor to all the ones who exploit the desperate people and right now, according to reports, more than 300,000 people are on the shores of Libya," he said.

Road to Europe

The EU commission is instead putting emphasis on the so-called partnership frameworks with Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia as part of a broader effort to address root causes of irregular migration flows towards Europe.

Results remain mixed following last summer's launch, said Avramopoulos.

The commissioner said Niger is cooperating well in terms of fighting smugglers and "preventing trans-migration" - migrant crossings of internal African borders on the transit route to Europe.

Nigeria is also cooperating on returns of rejected migrants and negotiating a readmission agreement with the EU.

Ethiopia, Mali, and Senegal are posing problems, however.

Avramopoulos described cooperation with all three states as being ”limited and somehow unpredictable” in nature.

He said that Senegal had started working with Italy on returns, but suddenly ”cancelled all the agreed ... missions."

Mali has refused to carry out such missions. It has also declined to sign a return agreement.

Laissez-passer

Last December, it rejected and returned two people dispatched by France. Bamako says it will not accept people assumed to have come from the country without proof.

French authorities had resorted to European travel permits or "laissez-passer" laws to return the two rejected asylum seekers.

Use of such permits triggered resentment by African states when the EU put forward the idea at the Valletta migrant summit in 2015.

"Ethiopia is progressing, but very slowly," said Avramopoulos without offering more detail.

This article was updated at 11.59 on 25 January 2017. It had incorrectly stated that Mali accepted two people dispatched by France, when in fact, it returned them to France.

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