As Libya’s political situation deteriorates, where does Europe stand on migration?

Libya is an important location of transit for people attempting to reach Europe, traditionally from Sub Saharan Africa and more recently increasingly from Egypt and Libya itself. This position has made it the departure point of many of those who lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the hopes of reaching Europe. In the preamble to their recent resolution on Libya, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) stated the following about Libya: “the stability and security of Libya are essential to those of the broader Mediterranean region”. In this line, the Parliament assessed the EU’s role in Libya. This includes Italian, Maltese and Frontex’s collaboration with Libyan coast guards, navy and search and rescue to the EU border Assistance Mission (EUBAM Libya) that since 2013 supports Libyan border management. However, multiple scandals have tarnished this collaboration. Humanitarian organisations point out that Libyan coast guards have ties to trafficking and severe abuses of migrants and refugees. The legality of certain practices, notably around pushbacks, has been heavily debated. Based on this state of affairs, which direction did the resolution take?

Continuity seems to have been the name of the game in the European Parliament. This included continued support for EUBAM, continued support for Libyan border management, the renewal of the mandate of the two CSDP missions contributing to the improvement of the security situation, continue search and rescue operations in the central mediterranean along migration routes and continue encouraging Libyan authorities to foster legal migration opportunities in cooperation with neighbour countries. But there were also calls for change. A call for adequate funding for search and rescue operations, a call for increased compliance with EU law from missions in the region and private search and rescue operators, a call for increased monitoring to safeguard the most vulnerable people, especially those that cross the sea in an attempt to reach European shores. 

The resolution urges Libya to sign and ratify the 1951 Geneva convention and offers support for its implementation. It calls for the betterment of conditions in detention facilities, particularly regarding women and children. On the topic of detention it urges Libyan authorities to put an end to arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants and to introduce “human rights-based alternatives to detention, inter alia by closing immigration detention centres and opening reception centres, developing screening and referral mechanisms and offering community housing options”. This pursuit seeks to align the Libyan legislative framework with that of the internationally recognized best practices and standards. They also “encourage” Libyan authorities to enhance cooperation with other countries and the International Organization for Migration to facilitate voluntary returns of migrants to their countries of origin.

In relation to the EU, the Parliament calls on the EU to be more ambitious in its migration and asylum policy. It must stand firm against illegal pushbacks and the return of people to internment camps in conditions known to be dangerous to them, states the resolution. Libyan stakeholders who do not uphold the standards must be defunded. Safe and legal pathways to Europe must be reinforced and the capacities of the Emergency Transit Mechanisms and EU member states resettlement pledges should see an increase in capacity. Secondly, this must be overseen, if deemed necessary, by a renewed UN independent fact finding mission on Libya. It must include evaluations of implementation in its report and be sufficiently funded for this purpose as well as granted access to the necessary locations and individuals, states the resolution.

Prior to the resolution, the European Parliament debate showed migration continues to be a divisive point. Pietro Bartolo, from S&D, spoke of ending arbitrary detentions and pushing Libya to sign the Geneva convention. He also called for an end to impunity in Italy for those not respecting human rights. Barry Andrews from Renew Europe criticized the current EU migration policy which he states incentivises torture in holding camps, urging to restore public search and rescue missions that were previously criticised for supposedly incentivising migration. He calls for cooperation with NGOs and the restoration of the Asylum pact. On the other hand representatives such as Susanna Ceccardi, from the ID Group, called for the “protection of the southern flank of Europe” talking of the risk of migrant instrumentalisation by Libya; going as far as stating that we “Need boots in Libya and sort out the mess we made”. She called for increased funding of Frontex and reminded her audience that Italy could not continue to handle the flows of migration to Europe alone. Bernhard Zimniok from Identity and Democracy went as far as saying that private rescue operations must be banned to prevent legalisation of illegal migration and that there must be public search and rescue missions explicitly destined to send people back to their countries of origin. 

The Parliament did not include language about any form of monitoring in the context of the cooperation with the Libyan coast guard. In the absence of demanding accountability the assembly is content to “urge” Libyan authorities not to harm those most vulnerable and to “enhance cooperation with other countries and the International Organisation for Migration regarding the voluntary, safe and dignified return to countries of origin of migrants stranded in Libya” as well as to “continue encouraging the Libyan authorities to enhance cooperation with neighbourhood countries regarding the creation of safe and legal pathways for migration”.

Beyond migration the The recommendation covered a plurality of topics. Foreign influence in the country, the “absence of a robust judicial system”, the importance of the fossil fuel industry to the Libyan economy and strategically to Europe and the impact of climate change.

Overall, the resolution follows the line of capacity building as a centric peace building method. Adopting a rights centred approach in cooperation with an established partner in the UN, the European Parliament seeks to instil long lasting peace but also to secure the EU’s role as a privileged partner in the region. A stable Libya is seen as crucial to EU migration control, a central issue right now. This will only be made more important to those countries most under pressure from migration flows as the rejection of the instrumentalisation regulation closed down an avenue of “migration management” some may have been counting on.