Europe’s Boat People: Shortsighted EU Migration Policy with Libya

Written by | Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

This time last year, the European Union was initiating discussions on the migrant deal with Turkey under which migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey are returned and successful asylum applicants are resettled directly by the EU from Turkey. The deal was successful at lifting pressure from Greece and helped tame and manage the flow of migrants to the old continent.

This year, the EU kicked off similar discussions with Libya. Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister of Malta, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, has proposed a system under which Libyan and European boats would intercept migrant vessels in Libyan waters, returning them to Libyan ports. The migrants would be processed in Libya by UNHCR and IOM, which are funded by the EU. Successful asylum applicants would be allowed entry to Europe while the unsuccessful ones would be either resettled in Libya or repatriated to their home countries.

While both deals seem similar in nature, their underlying circumstances are not. Unlike Turkey, Libya is an increasingly failed state in the midst of a bloody conflict with three rival factions fighting for control of law enforcement bodies. Even with the help of the international organizations, some analysts think it is madness to expect that Libya would be able to abide by the provisions of such a deal. Observers point out that the extension of the anti-smuggling Operation Sophia to Libyan waters was already a mistake. There are concerns that migrants brought back to Libya would not be resettled or repatriated but instead they would end up in detention camps.

Detention camps actually bring us to the second issue with a possible migrant deal with Libya – that is the fact that Tripoli, unlike Ankara, has never even tried to ratify international conventions on human rights. To add, it is the violation of basic rights in Libya that are one of the main reasons for migrants’ decision to risk a hazardous journey to Europe. Those arriving in Italy have reported being abused, starved or even raped in Libyan detention camps. Many argue that it would be simply immoral for the EU to pursue a deal that could increase the violation of human rights in this way.

On top of the problems on the Libyan side, the problem also lies in Europe. Just the very fact that the EU is considering a plan of this sort shows that Europe’s interest in managing migration is not genuine but rather confined to basic reduction of the numbers arriving in Europe at any cost. This is in turn based on the assumption that the migrants coming from Libya (unlike those coming from Syria through Turkey) are economic migrants, who are not covered by the international human rights law in the way refugees fleeing a war are.

To sum up, the EU should definitely pursue a variety of deals with its neighboring countries with the aim to manage migration flows. However, these deals should neither undermine the EU’s commitment to fundamental human rights nor destabilize the already fragile governments. A deal with Libya should therefore focus on the protection of human rights and improving conditions within the country.

‘Why a Refugee Deal with Libya is a Bad Idea’ and ‘The EU Deal with Libya on Migration: a Question of Fairness and Effectiveness’ – Commentaries by Mattia Toaldo – European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

(The study can be downloaded here) or (here)


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