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3rd Feb 2023

Libyan faction threatens EU with migrant boats

  • Migrants in a Libya detention centre: The GNC echoed Gaddafi's threat from five years ago (Photo: Internews Network)

One of the two rival authorities in Libya has threatened to send migrants to Europe unless the EU recognises its legitimacy.

Jamal Zubia, a spokesman for the General National Congress (GNC), told The Telegraph, a British daily, in an interview published on Monday (2 November): "I have advised my government many times already that we should hire boats and send them [migrants] to Europe."

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"We are protecting the gates of Europe, yet Europe does not recognise us and does not want to recognise us. So why should we stop the migrants here?".

He noted the GNC has no immediate plans to take the step.

"Every day we catch hundreds of them, even though we do not have the necessary resources, and pay for their food and medical services, even when hundreds of thousands of them are here. It is a strategic threat, yes, but I would not rule out us doing it one day," he said.

He recalled that Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's late leader, at a summit in 2010, managed to extract promises of EU aid after threatening that "Europe will become black".

"Gaddafi made this threat and brought Europe to its knees … You need to remember that we are doing your protection for you. We cannot stay forever doing this craziness, spending lots of money on nothing," the GNC spokesman said.

The EU and the UN have recognised the House of Representatives, a rival faction based in Tobruk in eastern Libya, as the country's legal government.

Its refusal to acknowledge the GNC, which holds sway in Tripoli and in coastal areas where most migrant boats embark to Europe, has attracted criticism.

Vincenzo Camporini, Italy's former defence chief, told EUobserver in July: "The EU should be more flexible, more realistic, in its discussions with local authorities."

"If I was a leader in Tripoli, I wouldn't trust the international community. The fact we recognise Tobruk and don't recognise Tripoli means they have a lower status at the negotiating table and this isn't bringing any fruitful results."

For his part, Bernardino Leon, a UN envoy, has proposed a plan for a Tobruk-led unity government.

The EU, as well as Algeria, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the US, endorsed the model. But both the GNC and the House of Representatives have rejected it so far.

The EU has also launched a naval mission, Operation Sophia, to capture migrant smugglers and their boats in international waters near Libya.

It has drawn up plans to deploy Sophia in Libyan waters, to send in civilian peace monitors, to increase financial aid, and to send back its border control mission, Eubam Libya, into the country.

But the extra steps are conditional on the unity deal being put in place.

Masked Men

Meanwhile, the fragmentation of Libya following the fall of Gaddafi, in 2011, amid EU states' and US air strikes, goes beyond Tobruk and Tripoli.

The Telegraph, last month, also interviewed members of the Masked Men, a vigilante militia in Zuwara, in western Libya, which is targeting human smugglers.

Adam Abza, the group's spokesman, said: "Europe will not find a single illegal migrant coming from Zuwara in the Mediterranean now. But we are doing a job that Europe should really be doing itself."

The group began its work in reaction to the number of dead bodies of migrants being washed up on the beach.

Abza compared the smugglers to Latin American cartels in terms of their wealth and sense of impunity.

"The gangs … [were] driving openly in the streets with cars full of migrants. It was like watching cocaine cartels in south America: they were buying nice houses and fancy cars, and showing off by eating in good restaurants, with pistols strapped in their waists," he said.

For its part, the UN refugee body, the UNHCR, noted, also on Monday, that some 220,000 people made the Mediterranean crossing to Europe last year.

Fish taboo

The number has jumped to 744,175 so far this year, including 218,340 in October alone. The number of drownings has reached 3,440.

The majority of crossings and deaths are taking place in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

But the Masked Men told The Telegraph the amount of bodies in Zuwara’s waters has made local people reluctant to eat fish because of concerns they feed on human flesh.

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