EU sticks to Libya strategy on migrants

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Migrants wait to be rescued by the Aquarius rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea, 30 nautic miles from the Libyan coast. AFP

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is determined to go on preventing migrants setting off from the coast of Libya, interior ministers said yesterday, despite criticism from rights advocates who say the strategy is aggravating human suffering.

After more than two years struggling to stem the flow of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa, the EU is cautiously hopeful it is finally in control.

A 2016 deal with Turkey effectively closed one major migratory route and this year Italy has led the EU’s efforts to curb sea crossings from Libya, supplying money, equipment and training for Libya’s border and coast guard and striking deals with local groups in control on the ground in a country still largely lawless after the 2011 death of Muammar Gaddafi.

Mediterranean crossings have dropped from nearly 28,000 people in June to below 10,000 in August, according to UN data. Sources said late last month a new armed group on Libya’s coast was stopping migrant boats from leaving.

Human rights groups decry the EU’s support for Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez Seraj and allied militias who run migrant detention centres they have compared to concentration camps.

The top UN human rights official said the EU strategy was “very thin on the protection of the human rights of migrants inside Libya and on the boats, and silent on the urgent need for alternatives to the arbitrary detention of vulnerable people”.

To offset that, the bloc has stepped up financing for the UN agencies for migration (IOM) and refugees (UNHCR) to try to improve conditions for migrants inside Libya. But it is not changing tack on trying to keep them there.

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