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10th Apr 2021

EU unveils €200m Libya migrant project

  • The EU will "significantly increase" training and support for the Libyan coast guard (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

The European Commission unveiled a €200 million programme for Libya and north Africa on Wednesday (25 January) to stem irregular migration flows, increase surveillance, and save lives within Libya's territorial waters.

The money will also finance efforts to better monitor land borders between Libya, Chad, and Niger.

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Libya, wracked by years of internecine conflict, is the biggest staging point for people leaving Africa for Europe in often lethally dangerous conditions.

Some 4,500 people died last year making the effort.

Broader questions on how much EU states will contribute to the pot and tenuous relations with Libyan authorities in Tripoli may complicate the plan.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told MEPs on Tuesday that "real discussions" with Libyan authorities had proven difficult. He noted some 300,000 people were waiting to attempt the Mediterranean Sea crossing.

The EU's foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, told reporters the following day that that was not the case, however.

"We work with the government and national courts, with prime minister [Fayez] al-Sarraj, we also work with municipalities," she said.

The EU commission is drawing the €200 million to cover expenses for 2017 from its €1.8 billion Trust Fund for Africa.

The plan is to have EU states match the amount, but Mogherini said she was unable to "anticipate expectations" when asked how much EU states were likely to contribute.

She noted that any EU money going into the country would be carefully monitored.

Mogherini will meet al-Sarraj next week to hash out the proposal ahead of an EU summit with heads of state and government in Malta on 3 February. She also met with Martin Kobler, the UN's special envoy to Libya.

Kobler was supposed to fly to Tobruk international airport last week, but his office in Tunisia told this website the flight had been canceled "and postponed due to a procedural delay."

Seahorse

Part of the earmarked funds will also go to increasing Libyan border surveillance in the lead-up to the full launch of the Seahorse Mediterranean Network sometime this Spring.

Seahorse is to connect national coordination centres for border surveillance from Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

It means providing the Libyan coastguard with equipment to connect to member states to better monitor incidents in real time. Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia might also be linked up.

Avramopoulos said that Europol, the EU police agency, and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, will play a key role.

"Both agencies will actively contribute to the cracking down, the dismantling of smuggler networks and the organised crime networks hiding behind them," he said.

Mogherini and Avramopoulos also dismissed ideas of replicating the EU-Turkey deal in Libya.

The EU is paying Turkey billions in humanitarian aid and moving toward visa-free access for Turks to Europe in return for Turkey’s help in stopping migrants.

No Turkey-type deal

"The two situations are completely different, the two countries are completely different, the composition of the flow is completely different, and the set of measures are completely different, so there is no comparison that can be done. The two things are completely distinct, one from the other," said Mogherini on Wednesday.

An EU naval operation, Sophia, is patrolling the fringes of Libya's territorial waters and arrested over 100 human smugglers last year.

It cannot get a UN permit to enter Libyan waters, but the EU aims to train and equip the Libyan coastguard to operate there instead.

"The proposal is to increase significantly the training of the Libyan coastguard," said Mogherini.

At the same time, Mogherini is trying to gain greater access to Libya for the United Nations refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration.

Russia

"That would be for us the only guarantee that international standards would be met, lives are protected, and the management of the flow inside the country are done properly," she said.

In an added complication, Malta earlier this month warned that Libya was at risk of descending into civil war.

A Russian-backed Libyan warlord, Khalifa Haftar, is slowly advancing towards Libya's capital Tripoli, to challenge the authority of the UN and EIU -recognised government, al-Sarraj’s GNA.

Haftar leads the Libyan National Army, a powerful militia, and is being funded by Moscow, which wants to establish a naval base in Libya, the Maltese foreign minister warned.

Malta raises alarm on Russia in Libya

A Russian-backed warlord could start a “civil war” in Libya, increasing refugee flows to Europe, Malta, the new EU presidency, has said.

EU mulls Turkey-type migrant deal with Libya

The Maltese EU presidency said a "similar approach" to the Turkey deal could stop migrants coming from Libya, but the UN said the plan was a non-starter.

EU leaders to push migration issue outside of Europe

EU leaders endorsed an Italian deal with Libya to help the North African country stem the flow of people, and pledged €200 million to help its coastguard patrol the seas in an effort to curb migration.

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