The German and Italian interior ministers have called for an EU mission to be installed on the border between Libya and Niger to stem migrant crossings to Europe.
In a letter to the European Commission dated 11 May, of which AFP obtained a copy on Sunday (14 May), ministers Thomas de Maizière and Marco Minniti said they “are convinced that we all must do more” to “prevent that hundreds of thousands of people once again risk their lives in Libya and on the Mediterranean Sea in the hands of smugglers”.
Italy had already registered nearly 42,500 migrants coming by sea by mid-April this year and 97% of them arrived from Libya, the letter said.
It called for the setting up of “an EU Mission at the border between Libya and Niger as soon as possible”.
To close the migrant route from Niger to Libya, the ministers are seeking “support for growth and development programmes in local communities” along the border.
Other measures include “technical and financial support” for Libyan authorities fighting illegal migration, particularly at the border with Niger.
Libya has long struggled to control its 5,000 kilometres (3,000 miles) of southern borders with Sudan, Chad and Niger, even before the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The North African country has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe.
But smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business in the post-uprising chaos, with tens of thousands of people each year making the perilous crossing to Italy just some 300 kilometres away.
According to the Libyan government, between 7,000 and 8,000 migrants mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, are being held in Libyan detention centres after entering the country illegally.
EU leaders rubber stamped a plan to curb migration from Libya at an informal summit in Malta on 3 February, offering Tripoli €200 million to better control its borders.
EU leaders agreed on immediate operational measures that should help reduce the number of irregular migrants and save lives of those who attempt to risk the journey through the Central Mediterranean route.
The plan agreed in Malta is supposed to train, equip and support Libyan coastguards to stop people smugglers and increase search and rescue operations, which in the last two years has saved over 400,000 lives.
The EU will work in close cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency to step up voluntary returns from Libya to countries of origin.