You are currently viewing If we close a border another one is still opened Not only Turkey – the crisis in the Central Mediterranean

If we close a border another one is still opened Not only Turkey – the crisis in the Central Mediterranean

On 17 December 2015, in Skhirat, Morocco, the representatives of the Congress of Tripoli and of Tobruk Chamber signed an agreement for the formation of the Government of National Accord, under the aegis of the United Nations. After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, two fundamental consequences resulted from political instability in Libya: the spread of the groups belonging to the Islamic State and the increase of migrant flows in the central Mediterranean. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 6,021 migrants and refugees arrived in Italy since 14 February 2016. The Organization also states that these numbers will increase during the coming days. In recent times, much attention has been devoted to the migration crisis in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, but the migration flows in central Mediterranean raise concerns for the European Union again. This article aims to analyze the European policies in the central Mediterranean, the relations with the Libyan government, and the Council conclusions of 18 and 19 April 2016.

In 2011, the Resolution 2009 of the UN Security Council (SC) established to set up a support mission in Libya (UNSMIL), at the request of the Libyan authorities following six months of armed conflict to support the country’s new transitional authorities in their post-conflict efforts. All UN activities for the Libyan people were guided by the principle of national ownership. The mandate of UNSMIL was to help and support transitional authorities in:

  • Restoring public security and promoting the rule of law;
  • Beginning an inclusive political dialogue, promoting national reconciliation and the establishment of decision-making and electoral process;
  • Extending State authority through the strengthening of the emerging institutions and restoring public services;
  • Promoting human rights, particularly those of vulnerable groups, and supporting the judiciary transitional process;
  • Starting the economic and financial recovery.

The Mission is overseen by the United Nations’ Department of Political Affairs, which provides guidance and operational assistance. Since 2011, following UN policy, the EU has kept assisting Libya in its efforts to establish a democratic, stable and prosperous State. This effort has involved the promotion of democratic transition based on an inclusive constitution, the emergence of strong, transparent and accountable institutions, and support to an alert civil society and a vibrant private sector. On 22 May 2013, the Council of the European Union gave the green light to EUBAM Libya, a civilian Mission under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), to support the Libyan authorities in improving and developing the security of the country’s borders. This civilian mission responds to a request issued by Libya and it is part of the EU’s comprehensive approach, which upholds the Libyan post-conflict reconstruction. The EU’s total programme in Libya now stands at 108 million euro. It focuses on public administration, security, democratic transition, civil society, health, vocational training and education. This comes in addition to the 80 million euro disbursed for humanitarian assistance during the 2011 revolution. Nevertheless, the internal clashes in Libya have resulted in a reduction of border controls. According to data provided by the Ministry of the Interior of the Italian Republic, 42.925 migrants arrived in Italy in 2013, 170.100 in 2014, and 153.842 in 2015. Indeed, the civil wars in the heart of Central Africa, the expansion of terrorist groups linked to ISIL, and persistent poverty caused the displacement of thousands of migrants to Libya: a state with few controls on the southern border, representing a direct channel to the Mediterranean.

The Italian Migration Compact

On 30 March 2016, the government recognized by the UN took office. The Chair of the Presidential Council, Fayez al-Sarraj, has promised that he will work to unite the institutions of the Libyan state. Furthermore, he announced the implementation of a package of urgent measures aimed at alleviating the suffering of the citizens and at boosting the achievement of the national reconciliation. However, three different government units are still active in Libya. The governments based in Tobruk and Tripoli are not officially recognized by the UN as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people, whereas the government led by al Serraj enjoys the support of the United Nations. On 23 April 2015, the European Council re-launched the Union’s initiative to mobilize all efforts to prevent further loss of lives at sea, to tackle the root causes of the human emergency in the Mediterranean and to fight human smugglers and traffickers, all that in cooperation with the countries of origin and transit. On 18 May 2015, the Council approved the Crisis Management Concept for a military CSDP operation to disrupt the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean. As a result, and as part of the European Union’s Comprehensive Approach, on 22 June 2015 the EU launched a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED). The aim of this military operation was to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels as well as enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers.

Notwithstanding that, the flows are accelerating: in 2016 on the Italian coast arrived 14,493 migrants, a strong increase compared to the same period of last year. The closure of the Balkan route and the recent agreement UE-Turkey about migrants threaten to increase the migration flows in Central Mediterranean, i.e. the sea route from Libya to South Italy. According to the latest data of the Italian Interior Ministry, the migrants arrived between 1 January and 24 March 2016 were 14,493. Landings increased by 43% in relation to the same period in 2015. According to Interior Ministry, migrants come mainly from Nigeria (2,426), Gambia (1948), Senegal (1373), Ivory Coast, and Mali. The first three arrival ports are those of Pozzallo (3344), Augsburg (3043), and Lampedusa (2655).

For this reason, on April 16, the Italian government announced the «Migration Compact». For the Italian authorities the Migration Compact is essentially an action plan to slow down migration flows, acting at the economic and political level targeting the country from where migrants leave the continent to cross the Mediterranean sea. The Migration Compact provides:

  • investment projects in the social sectors and infrastructure in the countries from where the boats leave, like Tunisia and Libya;
  • the establishment of EU-Africa bond to help the financial markets;
  • the common border control and cooperation in the fight against crime and traffickers, in addition with the prolongation of the existing Med-Eunavfor mission;
  • the cooperation between the judiciary;
  • the establishment of programs of migrants integration within the labour market in the arrival country;
  • compensation system reserved to countries that cooperate in giving asylum to refugees with the help of UNHCR.

The implementation of the Migration Compact must go through the necessary permission of Libya and only at its request, even if Fayez al-Serraj has already informally accepted the proposition.

The EU foreign affairs Council decision

On 18-19 April, in Luxembourg, the Council discussed the EU’s activities related to the external aspects of migration, and it stressed the need to concentrate on both the Eastern and the Central Mediterranean routes. It reviewed the EU measures and initiatives taken on the Central Mediterranean route. The Ministers underlined actions on the fight against traffickers and smugglers, notably with the EU naval operation “EUNAVFOR med Sophia”, the EU support to Africa through the Emergency Trust Fund, the launch of a series of comprehensive high level dialogues on migration with African countries. According to Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative a possible civilian CSDP mission could support Libyan efforts upon request of and following consultations with the Libyans. This kind of mission would inter alia offer them EU advice and capacity-building in the fields of police and criminal justice, especially with regard to counter-terrorism, border management, countering irregular migration, smuggling of migrants and trafficking of human beings. In the Council conclusions on Libya, we find the three major following points:

  • EU reiterates its commitment to fully provide a package of immediate and substantial measures in support of the GNA and the Libyan people, totalling €100m in a number of different areas, to be defined and prioritised in close cooperation with the GNA and in coordination with UNSMIL;
  • EU will ensure that its contribution will respond to the requests and needs of the Libyan authorities guaranteeing full Libyan ownership, and will be coordinated and coherent with other international kind of support under the overall coordination of UNSMIL;
  • Finally, EU stands ready to support the GNA in managing migration and asylum, in close coordination with UNHCR and IOM, taking into account the outcomes of the Valletta Summit.

During a joint meeting with their counterparts in defence, the foreign ministers spoke in a videoconference to Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, said that al-Sarraj had underlined a number of sensitive issues: among those, migration, security, the fight against Daesh, the need to rebuild the state, the support to local authorities, humanitarian aid, economic recovery and social conditions. She added that her teams would work immediately on implementing some of these elements, but she did not give a detailed program. The EU foreign ministers confirmed the EU’s commitment to implementing a series of immediate and substantial measures for €100 million. Elsewhere, Mogherini announced the disbursement of €3.8 million in humanitarian aid through the Facility for Stability, under the aegis of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The European Union has concentrated its efforts mainly on the eastern front, bowing to Turkish claims in order to implement an approach based on the control of migration numbers, and less on the political solution to the deep causes. Until now, the exchange of information with Libya seems politically productive: at least in its intention, the European program wants to intervene both in the Libyan structures, and in the migrants’ origin countries. The EU approach in Libya seems more comprehensive than the approach used in Turkey, but it is true that we must underline the necessary differences between the causes of Syria’s crisis and the Libyan instability. The events of the next few months will tell us which of the two approaches will produce the most comprehensive results. Or perhaps even the Council knows, and knew, which of the two can work.

Maria Elena Argano

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Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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