On Wednesday 25 January, the European Commission revealed its strategy for blocking the migration flows along the Central Mediterranean Route, especially around Libya. The short-term measures are intended to significantly reduce crossings before this summer. These measures include additional support to the Libyan coast guard, strengthening border authorities in North African countries and increasing the number of returns. Dutch media reports that EU leaders fear politicians such as the Dutch Geert Wilders or the French Marine Le Pen could destroy the European Union if migration is not stopped. However, no safe and legal means for refugees to come to Europe are outlined among the new measures.
Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta which holds the presidency of the European Council, stated that “the essence of the core principles of the European Union will be seriously tested unless we act now.”
One of the main ways in which the EU wants to reduce migration is by strengthening the Libyan coast guard. At the same time as the EU puts in place its plan for reducing migration along the Central Mediterranean Route, the European External Action Service updated its EU-Libya relations page. They outline further actions and support to Libya for stopping migration, including repatriation to Libya and assistance for rescued people that disembark in Libya. This help includes additional EU finance and “patrolling assets” for the Libyan coast guard.
Another area where the EU wants to step up its actions is in the combating of human traffickers and smugglers. The “Seahorse Mediterranean Network”, to be operational in Spring 2017, aims to “strengthen the border authorities of the North African countries” in order to disrupt smuggling, especially along the coastlines. However, the EU also wants to increase cooperation on border management in order to prevent refugees and migrants from arriving in Libya. Cooperation will also be implemented with local authorities in countries criticised for human rights abuses, such as Sudan and “other countries covered by the Khartoum and Rabat process.”
The EU also wants to increase return and resettlement, even as it recognises that conditions in Libya are “unacceptable and fall short of international human rights standards“. The EU aims to engage with Libyan authorities, despite the current situation, in order to improve these conditions. Twenty million euros from the EU Trust Fund for Africa will be used to scale up repatriation from Libya to countries of origin, with an initial target of 5.000 migrants.
It is doubted by some whether the European Commission’s plan to rely on the Libyan coast guard will work, as it is not “not a reliable partner” according to an analyst at think tank Carnegie Europe. Others feel that the European Union should propose safe and legal ways for refugees to get to Europe, rather than blocking the only available routes – risking refugees taking even more dangerous paths to escape their situations. A significant number of the migrants who are seeking to cross the Mediterranean do so to escape rights violations to which they are being subjected in the very countries with which the EU is seeking to cooperate to stem the flow. Regrettably the measures being put in place will do little to address the perpetuation of rights violations, but rather re-enforce their use by the authorities in those countries.