21st Mar 2018


Stopping the wave of asylum seekers means fixing Libya

Picture Maracana, Rio de Janeiro’s flagship stadium, which paid host to this year’s World Cup final. One of the largest stadiums in the world, it has a capacity of almost 79,000.

Now picture the same stadium filled almost to the brim with people in ragged clothes, covered by the marks of war, hardship and famine.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Libya has never really recovered from the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi (Photo: AslanMedia)

They are the asylum seekers, refugees and otherwise illegal migrants that have so far been saved at sea by Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea since late 2013.

Prompted by the tragic Lampedusa disaster, where 366 migrants sailing from Libya’s Misrata port lost their lives trying to escape from their home countries of Somalia, Eritrea and Ghana, this naval operation represents Italy’s rethink of the former ‘cruel to be kind’ policy.

Indeed, before the Libyan invasion of 2011, Rome’s standard approach to asylum seekers touching down on its soil or skirting its territorial waters had been to deport them from where they came – usually Libya, the traditional crossing point for a majority of would-be African immigrants.

After Gaddafi’s fall though, as the country has inched closer and closer to the status of failed state, such a policy became synonymous with a death sentence. Even the UNHCR has qualified this relentless migration as a "colossal humanitarian catastrophe".

With the ‘boat season’ almost underway, initial figures published by Eurostat show a dramatic increase in the number of asylum requests – the figure has almost doubled between 2008 and 2013 (226,330 to 435,385), on top of the approximately 1.7 million refugees already registered and living within the bloc.

The number of rescued migrants off the coasts of Italy is expected to grow almost tenfold in the next few years, with between 400,000 and 600,000 people currently waiting in Libya for their turn to cross the often treacherous Mediterranean waters.

Equipped more with hope than sea-savviness, most of them will use shanty dinghies run by human-traffickers that lack any kind of navigational instruments to reach either the shores of Malta or Italy’s forward island outpost of Lampedusa.

But why has this happened? Mainly because Libya has never recovered from Gaddafi’s overthrow. Essentially, the country is standing on the edge of the precipice – the authority of the central government extends only a few hundred kilometres around the capital of Tripoli, hampered by the tribal structure of the country, which left rudderless, acts as an obstacle to any form of state control. Not to mention General Haftar’s havoc-wreaking armies in the country’s east.

Libya’s southwestern tip in the Sahara, close to the Algerian and Nigerian borders, acts like a revolving door for illegal migrants from Africa on their way to Europe.

According to Mohamed Abdel-Qadir, head of Ghat's town council, a border town: "The border is open day and night. Anyone who wants can cross it. There is no control, most (smugglers) are armed, some of them drug dealers, some trade in weapons, goods and illegal migrants."

The decay in the traditional structures of power has turned Libya into a hotspot for crime and regional instability, with brigands and weapon dealers shuttling to and fro North Africa without being stopped by the almost disbanded Libyan border police.

More Brussels, but not as you would think

European leaders haven’t been too keen on finding a political solution for Libya up to this point, focusing more on Iran, Syria and, of course, on their own internal problems. But this dismal picture should worry them, as the migratory situation will only grow worse and could ultimately lead to a marked reverse in European integration.

Both Italy and Malta have called on Brussels to come to their rescue, as the burden becomes too heavy for the two countries to bear. Presently, the 2003 Dublin Regulation maintains that the country of first entry is responsible for processing asylum requests.

The regulation was meant to create a one-applicant one-application system and reduce the number of migrants moving from country to country. Unfortunately, it put too much of a strain on the most exposed countries (Italy, Malta, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria), which started ducking the system by allowing refugees to travel elsewhere in the Union.

Sadly, any asylum-friendly reform is bound to be scuttled by the prevalent Eurosceptic feeling. Brussels would more likely offer monetary assistance to its most exposed members rather than replace the Dublin Regulation with a common migration policy, which would install a quota system to allocate migrants across the member states.

But what if we were to turn the debate on its head? Instead of seeing this as an internal affairs matter, what if we were to reframe it as a foreign policy problem? Since any radical change in asylum policies is off the table, European leaders should address the core issue – in this case, Libya.

Fixing Libya

Usually described as an unsolvable political conflict because of the different warring tribes that have rejected Tripoli’s authority, Libya could be rescued from its conundrum by its pre-Gaddafi Senussi dynasty.

Libya’s foreign minister even outlined these ideas in a recent comment, arguing that this is the only way to restore stability and pacify the country, as the Senussis still enjoy the support of Libya’s tribes.

Indeed, Libya’s stability before 1969 came from its system of constitutional monarchy, largely based on the British system. Thanks to its influence among the Arab population, a Senussi king would serve more as the symbol of the state, while the Parliament and the Prime Minister were tasked with actually ruling the country.

European leaders could pretend that Libya is not their problem, but left unaddressed it will become everyone’s problem – uncontrolled migration is just one of many potential challenges.

Since deploying boots on the ground is the least desired outcome, perhaps Brussels should engage in a constructive dialogue with the Tripoli government and support the idea of a constitutional monarchy. Because, left to its own devices, Libya has all the makings of a failed state – and if that were to happen, there wouldn’t be stadiums large enough to contain the fallout.

The writer is a Geneva-based economist.

Libya: hounding of migrants must stop

Sub-Saharan migrants in Libya face appalling treatment. But despite its fine words, the EU's sole concern is to keep them out of Europe.

'Denial' - is meat the new climate change?

The European Parliament's agriculture committee meets on Tuesday, with speculation that the EPP will vote against a report on the EU plant protein plan if it mentions switching away from animals to plant-based diets.

Moria refugee camp is no place for people

Two years on from the highly-controversial EU-Turkey deal, many thousands of refugees are still trapped on Greek islands. One of them offers an open invitation to EU leaders to see their inhospitable conditions at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos.

Column / Brussels Bytes

EU e-privacy proposal risks breaking 'Internet of Things'

EU policymakers need to clarify that the e-privacy should not apply to most Internet of Things devices. The current proposal require explicit user consent in all cases - which is not practical.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders expected to approve Brexit future talks guidelines
  2. Tusk: EU must 'continue to engage' with US on trade
  3. European elections set for 23-26 May 2019
  4. EU tries to find common candidate for top UN food job
  5. Facebook post triggers Norway no-confidence vote
  6. Merkel: 'no reason' to sanction Schroeder for Russia support
  7. MEPs and Council strike deal on posted workers' rights
  8. EU parliament to investigate Facebook data 'breach'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverHiring - Sales Associate With 2+ Years Experience - Apply Now!
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECEIndustry Stakeholders Are Ready to Take the Lead in Digital Construction
  2. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  3. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementEuropean Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  6. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  7. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementSuing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name