EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday (6 February) agreed to improve conditions for migrants stuck in detention centres in strife-torn Libya, in the wake of last week’s Valletta summit.
The day-long Foreign Affairs Council – attended by all 28 member state foreign ministers – also discussed Ukraine and Egypt, although most attention was on Libya, and the deal agreed in Malta on Friday (3 February.)
That saw an additional €200 million pledged towards the so-called ‘Central Mediterranean route’, from the Libyan coast to southern Europe, where people-traffickers are now taking advantage of desperate migrants, after the effective closure of the Western Balkans route into the EU.
However, rights groups and NGOs have condemned the plan to curb migration via Libya, saying it puts travellers at risk in a country torn between rival militia and where
people-smuggling has become a lucrative and competitive business.
European Union leaders agreed in Malta to do everything possible to halt the influx, which saw some 180,000 refugees from the Middle East and North Africa land in Italy last year.
The foreign ministers’ meeting condemned the abuse of migrants, calling “on all parties to ensure unhindered and secure access to the centres for aid workers”.
The EU would work “to enhance the protection of migrants, help improve the conditions in detention centres, ensure adequate reception facilities, look for alternatives to detention and increase assisted voluntary return from Libya”, they said in a statement.
It said some 1.3 million people were in need of emergency humanitarian assistance in Libya.
Last week in Brussels, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini held a long meeting with Fayez al-Sarraj, the Western-backed PM of Libya.
Afterwards, she expressed some scepticism to reporters that all monies were getting through to Libyans on the ground.
The EU supports Libya’s UN-backed government but its writ is largely confined to Tripoli in the west of the country.
The EU plans approved Friday (3 January) involve funding and training the Libyan coastguard so it can intercept migrant boats before they reach international waters where the 28-nation bloc has mounted a rescue operation.
They also include proposals to work with tribes in the far south of the country to close the border routes there.
Over the weekend, some 1,500 migrants were rescued after their rickety boats got into trouble, the Italian coastguard said.
Speaking to journalists on arrival, ahead of chairing the meeting in the new Council of Ministers building, Mogherini said some 32,000 people had been saved at sea last year, but “we also have seen that 4,500 people have died in Libyan waters.
“And we have to do something about that – the Libyans have to do something about that, Europeans have to do something about that. We believe that the international community together has to do something about that and you cannot just close your eyes, because people are continuing to die, regardless that our efforts in the international waters are paying off in terms of results.
“We are trying to increase also the work in the desert, because we continue to face a tragic loss of life in the desert. Not seeing this happening, we believe, is irresponsible. So what we are trying to do is strengthening the Libyan capacities to save lives, to protect people, including the people who are currently in Libya, living in camps in awful conditions and bringing the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) and the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) to work inside Libya to improve the conditions,“ Mogherini concluded.