Maghreb’s Refugee Camps Controversy: EU Plans Facing Legal Challenge in Libya

Written by | Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

European Union interior ministers have given a green light to the plans to finance refugee camps in North Africa. The camps would be used by the United Nations refugee agency and aid groups to process applications of those people intending to immigrate to Europe and eventually prevent them from trying to embark on a journey to reach the shores of the old continent.

Thomas de Maiziere, German interior minister, said last week that the idea was to keep refugees in a safe place and prevent them from trying to get onto the old continent. “The people taken up by the smugglers need to be saved and brought to a safe place, but then from this safe place outside Europe we would bring into Europe only those who require protection,” he said in Valletta, Malta’s capital, where the EU leaders met to discuss the possible ways to end the crisis.

The sea crossing from Libya to Italy is currently the main route for migrants from Africa trying to get to Europe. The route is, however, mostly operated by smugglers and the people who are taking it are mostly considered “economic migrants“, thus without a chance to win asylum in the EU. The proposed camps in North Africa would be operated by the UN refugee agency UNHCR or the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which would be in charge of screening the migrants and helping return those not eligible for asylum to their home countries.

The plan to provide funding for camps in North Africa has huge political support in the EU but faces legal and security challenges. Libya, for example, has been in political turmoil since 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and thus returning migrants to the country would most likely violate the international law that forbids returning migrants to a place where their lives could be endangered.

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