Against the backdrop of fighting among militia groups in Tripoli, Vincent Cochetel, the UN Refugee Agency’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean route, told Italian press agency ANSA in an interview that the situation in Libya has become ‘extremely critical,’ and that the agency no longer has access to official detention centres.
Vincent Cochetel told ANSA that as of the start of this week, agency personnel no longer have direct access to Libya’s official migrant detention centres. He said one of UNHCR’s partners, the Libyan Relief Agency (Libaid), visited some of the centres and reported a “truly tragic” situation inside.
“There are about 18 detention centres in the Tripoli area, and for two days we have been unable to go to the disembarkation ports where rescued migrants are taken,” Cochetel said. He said the situation had gone from critical to “extremely critical”, and called on the EU to remain vigilant.
‘EU shouldn’t expect more from North Africa’
The UNHCR wants the EU to create a disembarkation mechanism on both sides of the Mediterranean. But Cochetel said, “I don’t think EU countries should expect more from those of North Africa until they are able to find an agreement on migrant disembarkation, on faster procedures, and on improved distribution of those who need protection.”
Cochetel is skeptical about cooperation with Egypt, where he said migrant arrivals have increased. “The country hosts more migrants than many EU countries; I don’t think it’s realistic to ask for more,” he said.
Turning to the EU countries, he said he sees “lots of fights”. “There’s a need for steady nerves; numbers have gone down, the situation is manageable. To organize solidarity, (EU countries) must be realistic. We can’t say that all migrants will be distributed in the EU. Many of those who arrive don’t have the need for protection, and they have to be repatriated.
“Maritime law provides for disembarkation of rescued people at the nearest safe port, but that can’t always be Italy. This isn’t sustainable, as we’ve said numerous times over the past three years. Mediterranean countries must share the responsibility,” he said.
‘Italy needs to better manage arrivals and procedures’
Cochetel called on Italy to improve its management of migrant arrivals, by speeding up procedures so that there are quicker repatriations and faster decisions for refugees. He said Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s proposal for a triage system on the ships “isn’t the preferred solution, because we’ve already tried it and it doesn’t work well”.
“It’s better for migrants to be sent to places where there is a quick triage, with rapid procedures. This isn’t rocket science, Frontex and EASO can help,” he said. “There’s no reason to put those who don’t need international protection in an asylum procedure for three or four years,” he said, calling repatriations a key problem. “If it isn’t faced, it undermines the European asylum system. So we have to work on it,” he said.