Italy sets up fund to help African countries stop migrants

Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano said the matter required "enormous delicacy'. [European Council]

Italy set up a fund to help African countries better seal their borders in a bid to keep migrants from boarding flimsy and often deadly rubber boats bound for Europe, its foreign minister said today (1 February).

Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano’s announcement of the €200 million fund comes two days before European Union leaders meet in Malta to discuss their plan to stop African immigrants from arriving in Europe.

A record 181,000 migrants reached Italy over the Mediterranean last year, most of them leaving from Libya where people smugglers operate with impunity. More than 5,000 are believed to have died attempting the crossing in 2016, aid agencies estimate.

“The strategic objective is to help (African countries) control their external borders and to stop departures,” Alfano told reporters in Rome. African countries can request training and equipment to beef up border controls.

EU considers increased support to help Libya tackle people smugglers

The EU could soon step up training and equipping Libya’s coast guard to crack down on migrant smuggling in the North African nation’s waters, according to an EU proposal seen by AFP on Saturday (21 January).

At the moment, Libya, Tunisia and Niger are the three “strategic” partners for the fund, Alfano said, but Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt and Ethiopia could be future partners.

Italy has repeatedly criticised the EU response to the migration crisis, in particular the failure to agree between EU states over how to share out those refugees and migrants who make it into the bloc.

All 28 EU states agree, however, on the need to prevent them from coming in the first place and are increasingly offering money and other assistance to countries in the Middle East and North Africa to that end.

The European Commission last week proposed mobilising a further €200 million for projects such as training and equipping the Libyan coast guard and boosting voluntary returns.

EU looks to limit migration from Libya

After blocking the main migrant route from the Middle East, the EU will this week seek ways to check a feared spring surge from Libya and North Africa across the Mediterranean.

European leaders will give such plans a political push on Friday during a meeting in Malta. The bloc is looking at financing camps on the southern shores of the Mediterranean sea to house refugees and migrants.

Malta PM wants Turkey-style migrant deals with other Med countries

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said on Thursday (12 January) that he will push to replicate the deal struck with Turkey last year to defuse the refugee time bomb in Northern Africa.

“We haven’t talked about setting up camps in Tunisia or elsewhere,” Alfano said, saying it would be premature to do so in Libya because of the lack of security. “We’re trying to work so that there will be no need for camps.”

The security situation in Libya is extremely poor since the overthrow of the country’s strongman leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. State structures have collapsed and a new, UN-backed government in Tripoli does not control its territory.

Militias and people smugglers control the migration routes and the United Nations sounded alarm last year that migrants in Libya suffer consistent and widespread abuse, including arbitrary detention, forced labour, rape and torture.

Libya: Human rights at risk of being forgotten in the Mediterranean

EU plans to help Libya police its waters should be welcomed cautiously, but we should not ignore the causes of the migration crisis or the plight of those detained in Libya, writes Magdalena Mughrabi-Talhami.

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