The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

Malta summit draft declaration: EU chief says bloc can cut Libyan migrant route into Europe

Associated Press Thursday, 2 February 2017, 14:41 Last update: about 6 years ago

European Union leaders are poised to take a big step on Friday in closing off the illegal migration route from Libya across the central Mediterranean, where thousands have died trying to reach the EU, the EU chief said.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said Thursday the EU summit would pave the way for humanitarian action to save lives of poor people with no chance to stay on in Europe. It comes amid global criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump's restrictions on refugees and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.


Tusk wants tougher action from the 28 EU leaders to break the smuggling rings and their deadly sea routes because "this is the only way to stop people dying in the desert and at sea and this is also the only way to gain control over migration in Europe." It would include more cooperation with the internationally recognized but largely ineffective Libyan government and more help to get the coast guard ready to better contain the smugglers.

"This goal is within our reach," he said on the eve of the summit to be held in Malta on Friday.

The challenge for the EU is to contain the flow of migrants through largely lawless Libya from desperately poor Sahel nations and beyond. It's fundamentally different from cutting the influx of migrants from war-torn Syria through Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean, which has turned from a flood into a trickle after the EU made a deal with Turkey on immigration.

With warmer weather coming, fears are that weekly migrant drownings in the Mediterranean will increase. Last year, 5,083 people died in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Tusk alluded that Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni was on the verge of closing a wide-ranging memorandum of understanding with Libya, which will reinforce Italy's role as the leading European country dealing with migration through the central Mediterranean.

Tusk already discussed Italy's move with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande and said that the leaders had agreed on the need to support Italy and the memorandum.

"Europe should and will stand by Italy in sharing responsibility," he said.

Most migrants coming through Libya and into Italy are seeking work and have little chance of being granted asylum.

The EU is now working with Libyan authorities to make sure the migrants do not board rickety sloops and head into the unforgiving waters, and will require that the bloc step up its aid to Libya's government.

In the draft summit declaration obtained by The Associated Press ahead of the summit in Malta, the 28 EU leaders say "authorities (need) to acquire control over the land and sea borders" to combat smuggling. It says the EU will give priority to training and equipping the Libyan coast guard.

The EU already has a military presence in international waters off Libya to counter smugglers and save lives but moving inside its maritime border would have a bigger impact on keeping migrants from boarding smugglers' boats.

"We are talking about a complicated situation on the ground," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. "We have an interest as Europeans to invest."

Beyond Libya, EU investment to counter people from leaving Africa would have to be extended over a big swathe of nations from Ethiopia to Nigeria, making for a very costly arrangement.

In Turkey, EU committed 3 billion euros through to the end of the year to help the mostly Syrian refugees there.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a long meeting in Ankara before moving to Valletta. She praised Turkey for its "extraordinary" efforts on refugees and pledged to do everything to ensure the EU money can be spent as quickly as possible.

"We are on the right track," she said. "The agreement between the EU and Turkey is already achieving things in our mutual interest."

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