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From the frying pan into the fire. Migration: after Turkey, the EU turns to Libya

Hedwig Giusto
Editor-in-chief of the Progressive Post and FEPS Senior Research Fellow

About one year ago, the attention of the EU focused, as far as the migration crisis was concerned, on the Eastern Mediterranean route, and in particular on Turkey and Greece, respectively the main country of boarding and landing for the huge flows of refugees that were fleeing chiefly from a devastated Syria to seek shelter in Europe. One year later, flows along that route have dramatically declined as a result of the EU-Turkey Statement, which, amid many criticisms and just as many flaws and shortcomings, has so far certainly worked to reduce the number of people crossing the Aegean to reach Europe. However it has not addressed the roots of the crisis or ensured that human rights are fully respected both in the refugee camps in Turkey and in the reception centres in an overwhelmed and worn-out Greece.

At the beginning of 2017, the focus has been diverted toward the Central Mediterranean route which last year (while everybody looked eastwards) has witnessed the climax of arrivals in Italy (181,000) and, tragically, of deaths in the Mediterranean (5,083, according to the IOM).

On Friday 3rd, the European leaders gathered in the capital of Malta – the tiny Mediterranean island, significantly lying between North Africa and Libya, which in this first semester of 2017 holds the presidency of the European Union – and addressed the issue of curtailing the flows of migrants along the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean. The approach, however, has once more been that of pushing away the problem from European soil in order to outsource it to a third country – Libya, which is very far from having solved its many security, stability, political, institutional, humanitarian and economic problems… to name just a few.

Among the European leaders, the security approach, the priority of providing “effective control of our external borders” and to substantially reduce arrivals have, once more, prevailed on the need to establish instruments aimed at orderly managing migrants’ flows in an orderly way (by introducing legal corridors to enter the Union); to ensure that the long debated reform of the Dublin regulation is finally agreed; to step up the relocation and resettlement processes; and to support the overburdened Member States in speeding up asylum procedures.

Libya is definitely a key player in the efforts to tackle migration and “combat transit and smuggling activities” and efforts to stabilise the country are extremely urgent, also because instability in the long run risks spilling over to neighbouring countries. Nevertheless, the Northern African state is not yet a partner on which Europe can fully rely on, either for the management of migration or, above all, of migrants’ reception centres. It lacks a stable government, whose control on the territory is continuously challenged by other centres of power, it is shaken by widespread violence, and it is facing a dramatic economic situation. And, as it is repeatedly denounced by migrants who stopped in Libya on their route to Europe, it has a terrible record of human rights violations. Therefore, ensuring “adequate reception capacities in Libya” is an honourable goal, but it is also, as things currently stand in the country, purely wishful thinking.

To tackle migration and address its root causes, the European Union clearly will cooperate with origin and transit countries, but it seems to be running the risk of gradually surrendering to the pressure of nationalist and xenophobic movements and parties, shifting towards a system in which entering the EU, both legally and illegally, becomes increasingly difficult, and leaving the burden of hosting the migrants to the countries that happen to be on route towards the Old Continent, and in which ensuring respect of basic rights might prove extremely difficult where democratic standards are low.

After the already questionable EU-Turkey Deal, the European Union is now turning to Libya¹, a failed state that, unlike Turkey, does not even have a stable government in control of the whole country. The risk we run is surrendering our values in exchange for the illusion of security.

¹ The EU-Turkey March 2016 Agreement As a Model: New Refugee Regimes and Practices in the Arab Mediterranean and the Case of Libya

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