EU leaders have endorsed on Friday (3 February) an Italian agreement signed the day before with Libya, aimed at stopping the flow of migrants into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
Italy already on Thursday pledged money, training and equipment to help the UN-backed Libyan government curb migration in a memorandum of understanding that Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Seraj signed in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
The deal, reminiscent of earlier accords to stop migration between Italy and then Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, comes amid EU efforts to stem the flow of migrants on the central Mediterranean route, which has become the main point of entry to Europe, since countries closed the Western Balkan route for migrants last year.
At the summit in Malta, EU leaders also pledged more training and aid, especially to the national coast guard in the hope that they would be able to pick up migrants from the sea and take them back to Libya. Currently EU rescue missions take the saved migrants to Europe.
The EU pledged that Libya’s UN-backed government will receive €200 million, including funding to reinforce the coastguard.
It also has become clear that EU leaders are moving toward shifting the migration crisis back to the country of origin and transit by providing more aid and refugee centres that are closer to the countries of origin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Valletta in her press conference that leaders have put the emphasis on partnerships with countries bordering the EU.
She said the EU aims to do deals with Jordan and Lebanon, similar to the one concluded with Turkey last year in an effort to curb migration.
EU leaders also underlined the need to involve the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR in these programs for their expertise.
She said however that the reform of the EU’s asylum system, one of the most sensitive issues among EU countries now was not discussed, they will come back to it in March.
“For refugees, it will be best to stay safe close to their countries,” Merkel said, saying people should not cross illegally and put their lives in the hands of smugglers.
“The EU has to tackle the root causes by creating safe havens close to the country of origin,” she added.
Human rights watchdog, Oxfam International, on Friday objected that the Italian deal does not ask for human rights guarantees from the Libyan authorities.
“EU leaders in Malta say they are committed to human rights and international law, but Italy has struck a dodgy deal with Libya with no safeguards for these principles,” Oxfam’s deputy director Natalia Alonso, said in a statement.
“The fact that all EU governments have welcomed the Libya deal, which makes no attempt to increase Libya’s commitments to people’s rights whilst shutting off the route to Europe, shows their duplicity,” she added.
Eszter Zalan / EUobserver