• Wednesday, May 19, 2021
  • Last Update : 12:00 am

EU leaders boost support for Libya to halt migrant exodus

  • Published at 06:42 pm June 23rd, 2017
EU leaders boost support for Libya to halt migrant exodus

European Union leaders are set Friday to boost their support for conflict-ravaged Libya as the number of people fleeing Africa from there for better lives in Europe continues to rise.

At a summit in Brussels, the leaders will commit to step up their backing for the Libyan coast guard to stop people setting out for international waters in unseaworthy boats.

The UN’s migration agency calculates that around 70,000 people have arrived in Italy from Libya so far this year, compared with around 56,000 for the same period last year. Almost 1,900 have died trying to make the perilous Mediterranean crossing in 2017.

Training and equipping the Libyan coastguard is a key part of the plan. But human rights group Amnesty International says the coast guard is plucking people from the sea and returning them to a country where they face detention and possibly torture or rape.

EU leaders “are increasing the capacity of the Libyan coastguard while turning a blind eye to the inherent, grave, risks of such cooperation,” said Iverna McGowan, head of Amnesty’s European office.

Libya is also appealing for help to secure its porous southern border, which is some 4,000km miles long.

The leader of Libya’s unity government, Fayez Sarraj, has been in Brussels lobbying the Europeans and the Nato military alliance for help. “As the number of migrants rises, the economic and social fabric of southern Libya is placed under very significant strain,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “Financial contributions are necessary to bolster that southern border” and “we seek the European Union’s support in that endeavor,” Sarraj said. EU leaders also want to replicate their migrant deal with Turkey which, despite rights and legal concerns, has drastically reduced the number of people crossing the Aegean Sea. Niger, hub for the main western African transit route, has been held up as example of what can be done. “If you look at the number of people coming from Niger to Libya, this has been reduced from 70,000 to 5,000 now” for the months of May this and last year, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said. “So what is happening is that these steps are beginning work slowly.”

The two-day summit in Brussels, ending on Friday, has been overshadowed by discussions on Britain’s departure from the 28-nation bloc, probably by late March 2019.

British Prime Minister Theresa May sought to reassure European Union nationals living in her country that their futures will be secure once Britain leaves.

May told reporters Friday that “no one will have to leave. We won’t be seeing families split apart ”

She said her government is making a “very fair and very serious offer” to her EU counterparts to guarantee the futures of around 3 million European citizens in Britain.

May is due to publish a report on Monday detailing her plans, but she did explain some elements of it to EU leaders late Thursday.

The issue of the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and more than 1.5 million Britons on the continent is a top priority in Brexit talks.

The leaders were also set Friday to discuss ways to defend Europe’s markets from dumping without undermining free trade and the multinational system.

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