A meeting of European interior ministers and their North African counterparts has agreed on more support for Libya and that applications for asylum in Europe should be made from refugee camps in the country.
EU officials have announced that they will begin sending equipment and economic aid to Libya to help it fight the smuggling of migrants to Europe.
The announcement was made yesterday (20 March) after a meeting of interior ministers from EU countries and their North African counterparts in Rome.
“Now there must be very significant investments,” Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti told reporters after the meeting. “There is a total and absolute commitment to do this.”
“Migrant flows to Italy unfortunately continue to increase,” added EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopolous. “If there is one country under huge pressure, it is Italy.”
Interior ministers from Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Slovenia and Switzerland, along with EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, deliberated with their counterparts from Algeria, Libya and Tunisia on strategies for curbing the number of migrants coming to Europe at the one-day meeting.
Among the measures agreed at the meeting were that migrants stopped by the Libyan coast guard will be taken to camps managed by the Tripoli government, but which will be assisted by UN humanitarian agencies and the EU.
“There will be camps that are created together with the humanitarian organisations in full respect of people’s rights,” Minniti said, adding that migrants will be able to seek asylum in Europe from the Libyan camps.
He insisted the meeting was not just “talk” but to take strategic steps towards managing a mass migration to Europe.
Human rights organisations have always rejected the suggestion that migrants could be well treated in camps in Libya because of the chaos in the country and the well-established records of the abuse of mainly sub-Saharan African refugees by Libyan officials.
There has not been a central authority to fill the power vacuum left after the overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Two governments are now vying for control – in Tobruk to the east and Tripoli to the west. The result of the power tussle has been chaos in the country.
The EU set aside 200 million euros last month to tackle smuggling in the central Mediterranean out which Libya will receive 90 million. Italy has also set up a separate fund of 200 million euros to help African countries control their borders and prevent migrants from being moved across them illegally.
The Libya’s UN-backed government is however seeking more resources.
Italy’s Corriere dells Sera newspaper says Tripoli is seeking a total of 800 million euros and has compiled a long list of the equipment needed, including four helicopters and a total of 20 boats.
Figures released by humanitarian organisations and the Italian government suggest that migrant flow is increasingly significantly across what is known as the “Central Mediterranean Route” from North Africa to Italy.
The Italian news agency Ansa reported on Sunday that a total of 3,315 people had been rescued from the Mediterranean in 25 separate operations over 24 hours. Boat arrivals to Italy have reportedly surged around 50 per cent compared to the same period last year.
A record number of 5,000 migrants died at sea in 2016 or were killed and thousands more were abused, according to the UN migration agency IOM.