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25th May 2019

Germany and Italy want EU to halt migrants in Libya

  • A view of Libya's border with Chad in 2012. (Photo: ECHO/M.Eick)

Italy and Germany are reportedly seeking an EU mission to stabilise Libya's 5,000km southern border with neighbouring countries and curb migration.

German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Sunday (14 May) that the German interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, and his Italian counterpart, Marco Minniti, want the mission set up between Libya and Niger.

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The ministers sent a joint-letter last week to the European Commission, saying that an EU mission at the border between the two nations was needed "as soon as possible."

"The first months of this year have shown that our efforts up to this point have been insufficient. We must prevent hundreds of thousands of people who are in the hands of smugglers from risking their lives in Libya and the Mediterranean," the letter states.

The letter, also seen by the French news agency AFP, says greater development and local support is needed for people living along the border. It also calls for "technical and financial support" to Libyan authorities.

Abdulsalam Kajman, the vice president of the UN and EU-backed government seated in Tripoli, had also told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper on Sunday that Libya was willing to launch patrols with the help of other countries.

"If we don't resolve southern Libya's problems, we will not resolve the migrant issue," he said.

Kajman added that Italy was prepared to help train a new patrol guard for the task.

The plans are part of a broader effort to prevent people from leaving Libya on boats towards the EU and crack down on migrant smugglers.

The exodus from the coast has increased by over 44 percent - when compared to the same period last year - with some 45,000 people having disembarked between January and mid-May so far.

Another 1,200 have died in the attempt, according to figures provided by the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The proposals come amidst another large rescue effort over the weekend. Some 484 people were plucked from boats in the Mediterranean on Saturday.

The EU is already training the Libyan coast guard to rescue people inside the territory.

But the plan has generated controversy given that those rescued are sent to any number of militia-run detention facilities within the country.

Human warehouses

"They are called detention centres, temporary reception centres, but actually they are human warehouses," Annemarie Loof, Doctors without Borders (MSF) programme manager for Libya, told MEPs in late April.

Loof, who has visited the facilities, says some of the people being detained are sold into slavery and forced into prostitution.

"They are sold, you can sponsor a migrant if you wish, which means you pay a certain sum of money and take somebody home."

Earlier this year, the EU had announced a €200 million package to financed projects around north Africa - geared towards migration in Libya.

The EU commission says around €90 million will go to step up the protection of migrants and reinforce migration management in Libya.

The money will be funnelled through organisations such as the IOM and United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), among others.

EU leaders discuss Libya migrant plans

A letter by Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, which will be discussed at the EU summit, provides an overview of plans to keep migrants in Libya.

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