Libya Rejects EU Plan for Refugee and Migrant Centres
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
Fri 20 Jul 2018 11.49 EDT
Libya has rejected a EU plan to establish refugee and migrant processing centres in the country, adding that it would not be swayed by any financial inducements to change its decision.
The formal rejection by the Libyan prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, is a blow to Italy, which is regarded as being close to his Tripoli administration.
In June, Italy proposed reception and identification centres in Africa as a means of resolving divisions among European governments.
The impasse came as the EU said it was willing to work as a temporary crisis centre to oversee the distribution of refugees and migrants from ships landing in Europe from Libya. Italy has said it is not willing to open its ports and may even reject those rescued by the EU Sophia search and rescue mission, a position that has infuriated other EU states.
Speaking to the German newspaper Bild, Serraj said: “We are absolutely opposed to Europe officially wanting us to accommodate illegal immigrants the EU does not want to take in.”
He dismissed accusations that Libya’s coastguard had shot at aid workers in ships trying to rescue people from the Mediterranean.
“We save hundreds of people off the coast of Libya every day – our ships are constantly on the move,” he said. In practice, Libya is already running detention camps, largely as holding pens, but they are not run as EU processing centres for asylum claims.
European foreign ministers agreed at a meeting on Monday to do more to train the Libyan coastguard by setting up the EU’s own training team inside Libya.
The European parliament president, Antonio Tajani, said after a trip to Niger, one of the chief funnels for people into Libya, that the EU needed to plough more money into the Sahel region to reduce the need to leave the area. He said the number of people reaching Libya from Niger was collapsing.
Tajani said: “Until 2016, 90% of irregular migrants travelled through the Niger to Libya and Europe. In just two years, Niger reduced migration flows by 95%, from over 300,000 to about 10,000 in 2018.”
He said he would host a European conference in Brussels in October to support democratic elections in Libya scheduled for December.
At the same time, Italy is to host a further conference in Rome in September seen as a follow-on to a conference held in May by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, that led to a commitment to hold elections this year.