Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Migration crisis: EU leaders to step up Libya aid

  • Migrant smuggling in Libya is a lucrative trade (Photo: USEmbMalta)

The EU wants to ramp up help for Libya's weak government to reduce the number of migrants coming to Europe, according to draft declaration from EU leaders seen by this website.

The document, prepared ahead of a summit in Malta later this week, says priority must be given to train, equip, and support the Libyan national coast guard.

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"Complementary EU training programmes must be rapidly stepped up, both in intensity and numbers," it notes.

"We are determined to take additional action to stem migratory flows along the Central Mediterranean route and break the business model of smugglers, while remaining vigilant about other routes."

It also says more needs to be done to crack down on smuggling operations and that international organisations like the UN refugee agency need to "ensure adequate reception capacities and conditions" inside the conflict-ravaged country.

The draft plan is part of a larger aim to prevent people from disembarking from the Libyan shores towards Europe. The route remains the most dangerous and most heavily travelled of all paths into the EU.

Last year, some 181,000 crossed from Libya to Italy, while just over 4,500 died in the attempt. Tens of thousands are thought to be waiting for the weather to improve to make the crossing, according to the EU Commission.

Separately, EU Council chief Donald Tusk told EU leaders in his invitation letter for the Malta summit that efforts to stabilise Libya are now more important than ever.

"Flows are at a record level, too many people die while trying to reach Europe, and spring is approaching fast," he said.

Libya human rights 'catastrophic'

With the EU's naval operation Sophia barred from entering Libyan territorial waters, the idea outlined in the draft document seeks to offload responsibility on to Libyan authorities.

The EU commission announced a €3.2 million plan last week to finance the efforts in Libya. The money is part of a €200 million programme for North Africa.

But broader questions remain on what will happen to the people stopped by the Libyan authorities.

Leaked German memos earlier this week described human rights in the country as "catastrophic" and noted torture and killings at detention centres.

The memos followed statements made last week by Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maiziere who told reporters that zones needed to be set up outside Europe to screen people seeking protection.

"The people taken up by the smugglers need to be saved and brought to a safe place, but then from this safe place outside Europe we would bring into Europe only those who require protection," he said.

Who to talk to in Libya

Questions also remain on the credibility of Libyan authorities to effectively carry out the demands.

Germany's foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters earlier this week that Libya did not have a functioning state.

"That's why talks with the Libyan government about the situation, for example, of refugees, aren't very productive," he said.

But some are still pressing ahead. Italy earlier this month reopened its embassy in Tripoli.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said last week that the EU worked with "local authorities that have a direct link to their people and have a certain control of the territory".

She also said the bloc would continue to work with the government of Libya's prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Mogherini is due to meet Sarraj in Brussels this week.

But EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos appeared to contradict her when he said no real discussions had taken place with Libyan authorities.

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

EU unveils €200m Libya migrant project

The EU commission has earmarked €200 million to enhance surveillance and better train the Libyan coastguard to stop migrants coming to Europe.

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New US president Trump overshadows the Malta summit of EU leaders on Friday, as they discuss the bloc's future amid new geopolitical realities, and step up efforts to stop migration via Libya from North African countries.

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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