Migration: EU rejects proposals for Turkey-style deal for Libya
Up to 1 million migrants live in Libya, drawn from neighbouring Egypt, Niger and Sudan, and sometimes as far away as Syria and Bangladesh, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
The European commission has rejected proposals to offer Libya a deal similar to the EU’s agreement with Turkey on migration, revealing divisions over how to respond to the record death toll in the central Mediterranean.
The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, outlined her opposition to the suggestions as she set out plans to boost EU training for the Libyan coastguard, arguing that the situations were “completely different”.
The commission’s stance is a setback for the Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, whose island state took over the rotating presidency of the EU on 1 January, with the goal of healing Europe’s divisions on migration.
Malta is preparing to welcome EU leaders, including Theresa May, to a summit next week aimed at taking urgent action to reduce deadly sea crossings from north Africa to Italy. Speaking in the European parliament last week, Muscat warned that “unless the essence of the Turkey deal is replicated in the central Mediterranean, Europe will face a major migration crisis”.
EU leaders struck a grand bargain with Turkey in March 2016, which offered money for Syrian refugees and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in exchange for a crackdown on people smugglers operating from the country. EU officials believe the deal has been the main factor behind the dramatic reduction in arrivals to Greece. Fewer than 50 people a day have arrived on Greek shores in recent weeks, compared with 1,900 a day one year ago.
In contrast, the number of people risking the sea crossing across the central Mediterranean to Italy has continued to rise, climbing to a record 181,000 arrivals in 2016, up from 154,000 the previous year. More than 90% of those migrants embark from Libya. The death toll has also hit a new record: more than 5,000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2016.
Commission officials are, however, wary of making a Turkish-style economic bargain with Libya, highlighting the instability and conflict that has plagued the country since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Turkey and Libya also have very different ties to the EU. The EU has been pursuing increasingly fruitless membership talks with Turkey for more than a decade, but Brussels wants to play peacemaker in Libya, where civil war is at risk of reigniting.
Migrants travelling to Europe via Turkey tend to be Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis fleeing war, whereas those arriving from Libya are more often leaving repressive regimes, instability and poverty across north and sub-Saharan Africa.
Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister, said: “The two situations are completely different, the two countries, the migrants are completely different, the composition of the [migrant] flow is completely different, the measures are completely different, there is no comparison that can be done.”
She announced €200m (£170m) in EU funding aimed at stopping migration across the central Mediterranean between the EU and Libya. This includes €3.2m to expand the EU’s training programme for the Libyan coastguard.
Some of the money will be used to step up a programme of “voluntary returns” to help people stranded in Libya return to their country of origin. Up to 1 million migrants live in Libya, drawn from neighbouring Egypt, Niger and Sudan, and sometimes as far away as Syria and Bangladesh, according to the International Organisation for Migration. The commission wants to expand an IOM programme to return migrants from Libya to their home countries.
At the EU summit in Valletta EU leaders will be asked to consider whether the EU’s anti-smuggling naval unit, Operation Sophia, should patrol Libyan territorial waters.
The latest plans were unveiled as the commission announced a three-month extension of temporary border controls in continental Europe’s border-free travel zone. The Schengen zone covers 26 countries, including non-EU Switzerland and Norway, but not the UK.
Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway were given the green light to maintain border checks, which were hastily introduced as large numbers of refugees and migrants arrived in Europe in 2015.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, described the controls as “exceptional measures for an exceptional situation” and said he hoped to return to a border-free zone in continental Europe as soon as possible. Under EU law temporary border controls can be reinstated for a maximum of two years.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010