Controversy surrounds the European Union’s (EU), latest plan to deal with the African migration to Europe crisis. Mr. Tusk, President of the European Council announced the European summit had “..reached [an] agreement on [the] immediate operational issues that should help [to] reduce the number of irregular migrants and save lives…” Both European and Libyan vessels will intercept migrant boats in Libyan waters and return them to Libya. Migrants would then be processed in Libya and those meeting asylum criteria would travel to Europe through Italy. Unsuccessful migrants would be repatriated to their country of origin. Substantial financial incentives, totaling over $200 million, would be given to North African countries, especially Libya, where this processing would occur. Additional training and equipment would be provided to the Libyan Coast Guard to prevent people-smuggling.
Meanwhile, groups that are already providing assistance to the migrants are skeptical about its potential success. They believe that the safety of people and humanitarian values are being ignored as the EU’s focus is only on reducing migration flow. Doctors Without Borders has described the European Union’s plan as “madness” and predicts that it will exacerbate the current position. Libya has failed to ratify any international conventions on human rights and is, therefore, deemed an unsafe place for people to stay. Personal stories shared by those arriving in Italy corroborate this as they share stories of abuse and starvation in Libyan detention centres. Ester Asin, a Save the Children Advocacy Director, echoes concerns when she asserts that “Simply pushing desperate children back to a country, which many describe as hell, is not a solution.”
The plan released by the EU highlights its lack of interest in managing the migration crisis and shows its aim is to merely reduce the migration flow. Giving the Libyan authorities increased responsibility for curbing migration flow with a financial incentive appears to be appeasing the Italian government, who has been calling for EU action. Many EU governments have little confidence in the plan and its proposed effectiveness as currently Libya is bordering on lawlessness. Acquired German memos describe human rights in Libya as “catastrophic,” yet the EU leaders have supported this plan. Any agreement with Libya needs to focus on improving conditions within Libya and encouraging migrants to receive basic human rights in order to ensure their safety. Superficially, focusing on a security dimension trivializes this very complex issue, which makes the plan flawed and unlikely to succeed.
Libya is the departure point for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing from violence, persecution, and lawlessness in Libya and other African countries. Since the EU made a deal with Turkey in 2016, the Libya-to-Italy entrance route to Europe has increased in popularity. An expansive coast with little border control and a relatively short distance to travel makes this route a highly desirable one, where people-smugglers and gangs are able to work extortion rackets. Fears for personal safety in Libya makes it a transient stop, only, and motivates those seeking a better life to make the dangerous voyage to Italy. Libya functions in chaos as rival groups fight for control. Italy is fearful of an increasing influx of migrants from Africa and has formed an agreement with Libya to curb migrant trafficking, and has signalled that this is part of a larger EU strategy.
Monetary incentives given to Libya and other African countries to repatriate migrants who fail to meet asylum criteria to live in Europe will do little to reduce migration flows. Encouraging and assisting governments to increase their stability and actively putting into practice commitment to human rights would ensure the safety of citizens and provide a solid foundation for growth. From this, improved migration process accessibility could be developed and orderly migration managed in order to produce long term positive solutions for those in need.
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