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Migration: After the Balkan, the central Mediterranean route makes EU dizzy

Written by: Rahal Taoussi

Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Brussels - After drying up the migratory route of the Balkans thanks to the agreement with Turkey in March 2016, the 28 countries of the European Union have to deal with the rising central Mediterranean route, which gives a hard time to the European leaders.

Overwhelmed by incessant flows of migrants because of civil wars, particularly in Syria and Iraq, the EU and Turkey concluded on March 18, 2016, a comprehensive plan to reduce migration to the old continent. The agreement, which stipulated for each Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian is resettled from Turkey to the EU, up to a maximum of 72,000 people, with financial counterparts for Ankara, has drastically reduced the arrivals of refugees.

At present, the 28 of the EU are working to dry up the flow of refugees and asylum seekers from the central Mediterranean, especially through Libya.

In preparation for the meeting of Heads of State or Government to be held in Malta tomorrow, the European Commission and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini presented a few days ago their contribution to the discussions on the how to "better manage migration and save lives" along the Central Mediterranean route.

The Commission and the High Representative have outlined a number of additional measures to strengthen the EU's efforts along this route, in particular with regard to Libya and its region.

The proposals aim to reduce the number of crossings and save lives, by reinforcing the support currently provided by EUNAVFOR Operation Sophia to the Navy and the Libyan coastguard, mainly by developing training activities through the immediate allocation of an additional EUR 1 million to the Seahorse program and EUR 2.2 million to the Regional Program for Development and Protection in North Africa.

They also aim, according to the European Commission, to step up the fight against smugglers and traffickers, by ensuring that the Seahorse Mediterranean network is operational by spring 2017 to strengthen the border authorities of North African countries and enable better operational cooperation between them.

It will also include protecting migrants, expanding resettlement and promoting assisted voluntary returns, supporting UNHCR's cooperation with the Libyan authorities to address the situation of people in need of international protection, and assisting IOM to improve the situation of migrants in Libya and to develop its program of assistance for voluntary return from Libya to countries of origin.

These actions also include managing the flow of migrants across the southern border of Libya, deploying the full range of EU missions and projects to support the Libyan authorities in border management and protection of migrants, fostering dialogue between Libya and its neighbors and building on the results achieved in Niger through the partnership framework.

The Commission and the High Representative also propose to increase dialogue and operational cooperation with North African partners on migration management and to increase funding from the EU Trust Fund for Africa, mobilizing in 2017 some 200 million euros for projects to support actions such as the training and equipment of Libyan coastguards, the improvement of the living conditions of migrants and the multiplication of assisted voluntary returns.

The main objectives of these actions are ''to combat networks of smuggling and trafficking in human beings, to contribute to a more efficient management of migratory flows, to continue to save lives at sea and to improve conditions migrants and refugees in Libya and neighboring countries.

"Too many people are still dead in the Mediterranean. We have implemented actions to address this situation, but we need to do more. Today, we are presenting possible actions in the short and medium term to deal with flows to and from North Africa", said the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

He noted that "above all, stability in Libya and in the region as a whole is indispensable", adding that "while continuing to support this process, we can promote actions that will help change the course of things, save lives and dismantle the economic model of smugglers and traffickers, which will also have an impact on the flows to Europe.

The press understands that, Thursday, "the EU could set up migrant camps in Libya". European sources "expect some (minority) leaders to call for the study of what is sometimes called + the Australian model + (where migrants are pushed back to camps on remote islands of the Australian continent)". These camps would be located in Libya or in neighboring countries like Egypt".

The Commission recalls that since 2015, the resources and means devoted to EU operations at sea have tripled, which has helped save more than 400 000 people in the Mediterranean. However, the increase in migration along the Central Mediterranean route, through which more than 181 000 migrants arrived in the EU in 2016, has also led to record levels of deaths at sea.

In order to prevent this "human tragedy from recurring in 2017", the Commission and the High Representative have suggested these short-term operational actions. As part of a comprehensive strategy, the proposed actions take into account the wider regional context (in particular, the southern border of Libya, as well as Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria), while the focus will be clearly on Libya, which is the starting point for 90% of those wishing to travel to Europe, explained the Commission.

These efforts require concerted action by EU institutions, Member States and relevant partners in North Africa, as well as cooperation with international organizations present in the region, such as UNHCR and IOM. The Commission and the High Representative are recommending to Heads of State or Government, at tomorrow's meeting in Malta, to support these proposals.

In order to "save lives and better manage migration flows" in the central Mediterranean, the European Union recalls that it has gradually defined with its states a "stronger and more elaborate strategic response".

In 2015, the Commission presented a broad European agenda on migration. Since then, a permanent presence of the EU at sea that was put in place has saved hundreds of thousands of people. Following the Valletta Migration Summit in November 2015, the EU stepped up its cooperation with partners in Africa, including through the Partnership for Migration Framework, launched in June 2016, which brought to a new level cooperation with the main countries of origin and transit.

An external investment plan for Africa and neighboring countries has also been defined to support this new approach, which can mobilize EUR 44 billion, and up to EUR 88 billion if Member States contribute to this, the EU reminds.

In 2016, more than 180,000 migrants arrived on the Italian coast, and 4,500 people lost their lives trying to reach them. These migrants, 90% of whom have transited through Libya, are mainly from sub-Saharan Africa (21% Nigerians, 11% Eritreans, 7% Guineans, 7% Ivoirians, 7% Gambians, according to the Commission.



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