Italy and the UN-backed government in Libya on Thursday (2 February) signed a deal to curb migration, ahead of today’s EU summit in Malta.
The plan is part of a broader EU effort to seal off the migratory flows from Libya before the upcoming summer months when the sea journeys towards Europe are expected to spike.
Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni signed the deal with Libya’s prime minister Fayez al-Serraj in Rome.
“It confirms that cooperation that has been taking place for months via the Italian government’s commitment on many fronts,” said Gentiloni.
Serraj, quoted in Deutsche Welle, said the deal included “humanitarian repatriation” of migrants.
Italian news agency Ansa said it also included measures to combat human trafficking, contraband, and border reinforcement.
Brussels, Rome, Malta
The Libyan leader had also met with EU council president Donald Tusk and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini earlier in the day in Brussels.
At a joint press conference with Mogherini, Serraj said they had discussed at length “a series of potential solutions” on how to deal with thousands of people hoping to make the perilous sea journey to Europe.
Almost 1,200 people are reported to have perished from Libya to Italy from November 2016 to end of January 2017.
Serraj said Libya “is committed to enhance our cooperation with the European Union in order to stop the illegal migration phenomenon and protect those who venture into lethal action on the seas.”
He also noted that any effort would have to respect and preserve Libyan sovereignty in what he described as “non-negotiable”.
The EU’s naval operation Sophia, to crack down on people smugglers, is barred from entering Libyan territorial waters.
But Serraj appeared to be open to allowing the ships in following comments made earlier this week at Nato.
“If there is something to be carried out jointly between the Libyan navy and any other party interested in extending a hand to the Libyan navy, that would be possible,” he said.
Insecurity in Libya
The flurry of meetings is leading up to the EU summit in Malta on Friday, where heads of state and government are expected to thrash out the migration curbing plans following a €200 million pledge to the north African states.
Part of the plan includes granting the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) greater access to Libya.
But both organisations, in a joint statement, said widespread insecurity inside the war-torn country made it difficult to provide even basic services to people in need.
“We believe that, given the current context, it is not appropriate to consider Libya a safe third country nor to establish extraterritorial processing of asylum-seekers in North Africa,” they said.
Nikolaj Nielsen │ EUobserver