Europe’s “big four” continental powers and three African states agreed on a plan Monday to tackle illegal human trafficking and support nations struggling to contain the flow of people across the desert and Mediterranean sea.
The 28-nation European Union has long struggled to reach a coherent answer to the influx of migrants fleeing war, poverty and political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, and the crisis is testing cooperation between member states.
After hosting the leaders of Germany, Italy, Spain, Chad, Niger and Libya, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was time for greater coordination.
The seven heads of state or government, who included Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Libya’s political stalemate was a central obstacle to resolving the crisis that has seen nearly 1.5 million people arrive in Europe since 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.
“As long as the crisis in Libya is not resolved, I don’t think we can find a definitive solution to the issue,” said Chadian President Idriss Deby.
Two competing governments and dozens of armed factions are jostling for power in Libya, which plunged into chaos after the overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011. The North African country is a major transit hub for migrants.
Screening centres in Niger and Chad would help prevent “women and men from taking unwise risks in an extremely dangerous area and then in the Mediterranean” by starting the asylum process closer to home, Macron said, reiterating a proposal he made in July.
Human traffickers as well as arms and drug dealers “have turned the Mediterranean into a cemetery,” he said.
More than 14,000 people, many fleeing conflicts or hardship in Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, have died attempting to reach Europe since 2014. This year alone, some 125,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean, the vast majority landing in Italy.
UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi welcomed the developments, but added: “Measures that simply aim at curbing the number of arrivals do not solve the problem of forced migration.
“Any meaningful approach must include a set of strong and determined actions to ensure a lasting peace in conflict-ridden countries as well as social and economic development in places of origin.”
The head of the Libyan unity government Fayez al-Sarraj took part in the talks as well as Merkel, Spanish and Italian prime ministers Mariano Rajoy and Paulo Gentiloni, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou and the European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini.
European states have long sought to cut off clandestine immigration routes into the continent.
A controversial accord with Turkey last year stemmed the huge influx across the Aegean Sea to Greece, but other routes have come back into use, including via Morocco and Spain.
Libya has sought to restrict the work of NGOs operating rescue boats in the Mediterranean that pick up migrants stranded on inflatable dinghies or other unseaworthy crafts by claiming that they unintentionally encourage migrants to attempt the crossing.[Source: Middle East Eye]