The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

EU leaders approve additional €200 million for projects to close down Libya migrant route

Friday, 3 February 2017, 09:29 Last update: about 3 years ago

European Union leaders insisted today their strategy to stem a relentless flow of smuggled migrants from Libya toward the continent will save lives, even as U.N. and refugee advocates decried horrible camp conditions in the largely lawless north African country.

Buoyed by an Italian-Libyan deal reached in Rome on the eve of Friday's EU summit in Malta, the leaders of the 28 EU nations forged a plan that would both stop more migrants from crossing into Libya's southern desert and thwart the smugglers from continuing to send migrants from the poorly patrolled Mediterranean coast toward Europe.

0302 Valletta walk through from EU2017MT on Vimeo.

Hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers, most of them economic migrants ineligible to remain in Europe, have reached Italy in the last few years after rescue at sea from floundering boats, but thousands have also drowned or died aboard over-packed and often unseaworthy vessels.

EU leaders want to close down that route across the central Mediterranean through naval and economic assistance to the beleaguered government in Libya.

Under the plan approved Friday, the EU will provide an additional €200 million euros for migration-related projects in Libya.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini told reporters the aim of Europe is to "decrease loss of life at sea and in the desert" of southern Libya along smugglers' routes.

Advocates for refugees cite inhumane conditions in Libyan detention camps where the migrants are kept after entering Libya illegally and while waiting months for their turn in smugglers' boats.

Doctors Without Borders general director Arjan Hehenkamp said in a statement that the EU nations "need a reality check" and called the camps "dangerously overcrowded."

Mogherini said the EU strategy would ensure "full respect for human rights" while aiming to stop the central Mediterranean route "on which still too many people are dying."

The summit also yielded strong support support to Italy, which has coordinated the rescue of hundreds of thousands of migrants at sea in the last few years.

Political pressures have been mounting in countries like Italy and Germany, which have been welcoming the rescued migrants, to take action to assure citizens that arrivals will be contained.

One strategy could be some kind of joint patrols by EU or NATO vessels with Libya's fleet just off shore if Tripoli allows outsiders into its territorial waters.

Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni has said the Libyan-Italian deal calls for EU economic assistance to improve Libyan lives. Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj's Tripoli-based government controls only a part of the country, which plunged into fighting and chaos after longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi's demise in 2011.

Gentiloni called Italy's accord with Libya a "new chapter" in attempts to manage the migrant flow, saying Rome expected resources and commitment from the EU to make it work.

Serraj was in Brussels during the Malta summit trying to lock in EU support he can use to bolster his beleaguered position at home.

 

Anti-Trump feeling

Many of the EU leaders have also expressed their concerns at US President Donald Trump's immigration policy. Mr Trump recently announced a ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe’s fate is in its own hands. “The more we are clear about how we define our role in the world, the better we can also take care of our transatlantic relations," she said, clearly referring to the US.

Gianni Pitella, the President of the Social and Democrat Group, said Europe must be united against the Mr Trump.  

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it would become evident today that the EU and the US differed on their approach to migration. “We will have a big responsibility as Europeans, first of all to show unity and strength in a moment when the world and Europeans need a strong EU, sticking to our values, being true to ourselves, and becoming a strong point of reference for our partners around the world.

On immigration we can show the difference. The European approach is an approach of partnership. I am sure today we will agree on very relevant package of measure that will help us manage the migrant flows better and save lives in partnership with the UN agencies.”

Ms Mogherni said: “We are and will remain friends with the Americans. I am sure we will have very pragmatic discussions on how we can achieve our common results or on where we might differ. Differing in positions is something normal among friends. For sure the Europeans differ on our approach on migration and today we will show our way is cooperation and partnership. We do not believe in walls and bans.”

U.N. and human rights officials have voiced concern that any such deal could include sending migrants, now kept in dangerous, overcrowded conditions in Libyan camps, back to the very dire circumstances they were trying to flee. But EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini says the aim is to "'decrease loss of life at sea and in the desert" of southern Libya along smugglers' routes.

British PM Theresa May is attending the morning session but will be absent for the afternoon talks, when post-Brexit EU will be discussed.

Earlier today, 16 NGOs said the Maltese government’s call on the European Commission to look into bypassing, waiving or otherwise ignoring the principle of non-refoulement should absolutely not be entertained by the European Union’s executive body.

 

After the morning session, the EU leaders walked around Valletta, visiting St John's Co-Cathedral and then walked towards the Upper Barrakka Gardens.They took the lift down to the waterfront are boarding two boats, which will take them to Vittoriosa for lunch. 

The afternoon session will be an occasion for the 27 leaders to prepare for the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome on 25 March 2017. The Treaty of Rome had led to the establishment of the European Economic Community, which later became the EU.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat held a tête-à-tête and bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Auberge de Castille just prior to the summit. 

In the meantime EU leaders who are members of the Socialist group this morning met at the Labour Party’s headquarters in Hamrun. 

 

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