The European Union has decided to extend financial support to Libya to stem the flow of refugees headed to the EU. EU interior ministers decided on Thursday that giving money to Libyan officials was the only way to stop the flow of asylum-seekers headed from the African country to Europe.
“Tens of millions of euros of project money have been allocated to rebuild the Libyan coast guard, increase the ability to perform sea rescue operations, and this crisis will only end once it can’t get beyond the Libyan coast any longer,” said Estonian Interior Minister Andres Anvelt.
Anvelt is chairing the EU interior ministers’ gathering in Tallinn, Estonia on Thursday and Friday to discuss the rising numbers of asylum-seekers arriving in Italy from Libya. The EU interior ministers vowed to crack down on the countries that refuse to take back their nationals when their asylum bids fail in Europe.
Meanwhile, Italy, which has received more than 85,000 refugees since January, said it can no longer shoulder the burden of Europe’s refugee crisis alone. Italy has accused some aid groups conducting rescue operations in the Mediterranean of complicity with Libyan-based traffickers.
“This is an unprecedented initiative,” Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said. Italy has threatened to close its ports to non-Italian flagged rescue ships to force other European countries to take the refugees in. Ahead of the meeting, human rights group Amnesty International issued a highly critical report emphasizing that EU giving money to Libya to prevent asylum-seekers from leaving risked victimizing refugees even more.
Amnesty said it was “deeply problematic to fund a country where human rights are lacking and the coast guard has been known for violence against refugees.” Not only do they face the risk of dying at sea, they risk grave human rights abuses once they are returned to Libya and trapped there, the human rights group said.
The search-and-rescue director for Save the Children, Rob MacGillivray, said in a statement that rescued asylum-seekers have recounted horrors from Libya, including claims of sexual assaults, sales to others for work and whippings and electrical shocks in detention centers.
“Simply pushing desperate people back to Libya, which many describe as hell, is not a solution,” MacGillivray said. Rights groups have described the EU refugee policy as “reckless”.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitri Avramopoulos said at a recent news conference in Paris that the situation in Libya was unreliable. The EU is drawing on a country in “very precarious conditions”, he said.
More than 2,000 asylum-seekers have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea so far this year. Last year, refugees from the Middle East and North Africa were headed to the EU from Turkey. Turkey closed that route after Ankara’s leaders cinched a multi-billion euro deal with the EU.