Thursday

28th May 2020

EU leaders discuss Libya migrant plans

  • Libya's detention centres have been described as death traps (Photo: © UNICEF/Romenzi)

The EU is pressing ahead to provide a Libyan land border authority, said to be "in complete disarray", with vehicles, surveillance, intelligence and other technologies, according to a document seen by EUobserver.

In a letter ahead of Thursday's EU summit in Brussels, Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the EU presidency, said that the EU is ready to "do its utmost" to stabilise Libya in a broader effort to stop people from exiting the war-torn country towards Europe.

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Muscat outlines the plans and money needed to help people stuck in Libya and prevent others from entering or leaving the country.

The letter, addressed to European Council president Donald Tusk, provides an overview of EU-led efforts in Libya, following a declaration signed five weeks ago among heads of state at a summit in Malta and will be presented to other EU leaders when they discuss migration at the summit.

It says the European Commission has earmarked €20 million to help improve conditions in detention centres, which are mostly run by armed militia groups.

Part of that money will also go towards sending around 5,000 people home in assisted voluntary return schemes, organised by the Geneva-based International Organisation of Migration (IOM).

One senior EU diplomat told reporters in early March that migration was just a side-issue to the real problems facing the country.

"Libya is totally out of control," he said, noting that the ties among local communities and tribes were shattered in the wake of Muammar Gaddafi's downfall as leader in 2011.

But EU leaders in Brussels, at a summit on Thursday, intend to endorse all efforts in resolving the migratory challenges faced in Libya, according to draft conclusions seen by EUobserver.

Among the biggest problems is trying to control a southern Libyan border that spans across vast tracks of lawless desert.

1,500 militias

The aim is to crack down on migrant smuggling in a country where some 1,500 armed militia groups operate with near total impunity.

The task is further complicated by inter-tribal disputes and a UN-backed government of national accord in Tripoli that has little to no control over most the country.

The difficulties were highlighted by the EU's border and surveillance mission in Libya, EUBAM, which in an internal report from February, said Libya's ministry of the interior is being infiltrated "by militias and religiously motivated stakeholders."

It had also described Libyan border security and management as being "in complete disarray at present".

The Muscat letter says EUBAM will support the ministry to tackle organised crime and human smuggling.

It also offloads big tasks against smugglers in Libya to EU agencies like Europol, the European Border and Coast Guard, European Maritime Safety Agency, European Fisheries Control, and the European Satellite centre.

One idea includes disrupting supplies to smugglers by somehow liaising with "manufacturers, suppliers, retails of dinghies and engines, etc".

Another proposal involves "information sharing between military and law enforcement capacities deployed in the region."

Local opposition

Despite the plans, big questions remain on how exactly they will be carried out and whether the Libyan factions in control are willing to work with the EU.

Local authorities from Tripoli and Zintan, a city in the north-west of country, told EUobserver in February that they opposed the EU plans to keep migrants inside the country.

"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," said Mostafa Al-Barooni, Zintan's mayor.

The EU is carrying out missions in order to train the Libyan Coast Guard to return people caught within the territorial waters back to the country. In February, a first group graduated in Malta's capital city Valletta.

A second training mission has since begun in Crete, with Malta planning to host another two training modules between March and April.

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