Libyan authorities oppose EU migrant plans
Local authorities in Libya's capital city Tripoli and elsewhere are mounting resistance to EU plans to stem migration flows towards Italy.
The move is likely to further complicate efforts after the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced a €200 million plan to finance migration projects geared towards Libya throughout much of north Africa.
A large bulk of the money is likely to be shuffled into border control and surveillance in the hope of containing people likely to attempt the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing in the upcoming months.
But Mostafa Al-Barooni, the mayor of one of the largest cities in the country, told this website on Wednesday (8 February) that Mogherini's proposals were unacceptable.
"It is not acceptable and it is not logical that we should solve the problem of Europe by keeping the migrants and refugees in Libya," he said.
Al-Barooni presides over Zintan, a city in the north-west of country, which is home to some 20,000 migrants.
His views were echoed by Ibrahim Aribi, a city councillor from Tripoli, the seat of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, the GNA.
"It is the European Union that is responsible for the illegal migrants," Aribi told EUobserver.
"We don't agree with these plans," he said.
Aribi said the EU's migration proposals risked creating "huge problems for Libya."
"If all these refugees cannot go further and stay in Libya, it will worsen the situation,” he said.
The two said EU assistance for Libya should instead aim to create jobs and tackle day-to-day issues such as waste management.
No legal path to EU from Libya
EU leaders, earlier this month in Malta, said they would "stem illegal flows into the EU" and "combat transit and smuggling activities”, but made no mention of helping people to find legal ways to seek asylum in Europe.
It means that people hoping to reach the EU will continue to rely on smugglers.
The EU is keen to cooperate with Libyan municipal authorities, which are viewed as being vital to implementing its new African projects, but with local authorities opposing the plans to keep migrants at bay, it is unclear how the European initiatives can proceed.
Al-Barooni and Arib’s comments come ahead of a ceremony in Malta where Mogherini is handing over graduation certificates to 89 trainees in the Libyan coast guard and navy.
The trainees are among the first batch in an EU plan to get the Libyans to pluck migrants from within their own territorial waters and return them to Libya.
But once returned, they are likely to end up in detention facilities that were recently described as death-traps by the German government.
Officially, Libya has 34 detention centres but sources on the ground say the real number is between 20 and 27.
"If there is a conflict, migrants are moved to another centre, so it depends," said International Organisation of Migration (IOM) chief of mission to Libya, Othman Belbeisi.
Failed state and international aid
Another part of the EU plan to keep migrants in place is to enlist international aid organisations like the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and IOM for help.
But the UNHCR has no international staff in Libya.
The agency has people working in Somalia and Afghanistan but refuses to send anyone to Libya for extended stays because it is too dangerous.
It instead relies on local hires to carry out services.
The IOM has 81 staff present in Libya and 115 dedicated mission staff but faces similar restrictions.
The IOM's Libya's mission chief Belbeisi, for instance, is based in Tunisia.
"Even for me, I cannot go to Libya and stay for a number of days," he said.
Belbeisi said they are able to work around the problems with different contractual agreements for staffing inside the country.
"We are taking some risks trying to have people on the ground under different contractual modalities," he said.
The IOM works primarily with the Libyan coast guard and a so-called directorate for combating illegal migration.
The organisation wants to set up reception facilities for people rescued at sea where they can receive a meal and quick shower before being released a few hours later.
Belbeisi said that those rescued are often sent immediately to the detention centres.
"This is something that we advocate that authorities should stop but it continues to happen," he said.