Libya says no to EU migrant centres

Serraj’s remarks follow a European summit where EU leaders agreed to set up “disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc.
Friday 20/07/2018
Federica Mogherini (L), European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, meets with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (R) at his office in Tripoli on July 14, 2018. (AFP)
Federica Mogherini (L), European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, meets with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (R) at his office in Tripoli on July 14, 2018. (AFP)

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said the country would not agree to host migrant centres to hold asylum seekers arriving in western Europe, a major setback for European leaders who proposed the plan.

“We are absolutely opposed to Europe officially wanting us to accommodate illegal immigrants the EU does not want to take in,” Sarraj told German daily Bild in an interview published on Friday. 

“We also won’t agree on any deals with EU money about taking in more illegal migrants,” he added.

Sarraj’s remarks follow a fractious European summit in June where EU leaders agreed to set up “disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc to process migrants.

Such centres would operate in cooperation with the UN refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration.

But no country has so far offered to host a reception centre, where authorities would distinguish between irregular migrants and asylum seekers admissible into the EU.

Morocco has already given a flat no to the plan, while Tunisia previously rejected it.

Albania has also ruled itself out with Prime Minister Edi Rama saying that such centres mean “dumping desperate people somewhere like toxic waste that no one wants.”

Meaenwhile, Sarraj also dismissed accusations that Libya’s coastguard has shot at aid workers trying to rescue migrants.
“We save hundreds of people off the coast of Libya every day – our ships are constantly on the move,” he said, adding that Libya was being left to rescue migrants from the Mediterranean alone and needed more technical and financial support.

Libya, which is estimated to host nearly 700,000 migrants throughout the country, has been accused by aid groups of poor conditions in crowded detention centres and of failing to protect migrants’ human rights. 

“The conditions were filthy, cramped and dangerous - among the worst I have seen,” said Elinor Raikes, vice-president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) after visiting a camp in a July.

In addition, migrants in Libya have been deemed at risk of abuse, exploitation and even slavery, aid groups say. 

“Compelled to flee, but without legal pathways to safety, refugees are exposed to appalling harm, together with migrants, including torture, rape, sexual exploitation, slavery and other forms of forced labour,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi last November. 

Last December, footage appearing to show men being auctioned off as slaves on the outskirts of Tripoli sparked global outrage. 

“It is now clear that slavery is an outrageous reality in Libya,” the UN said. “The auctions are reminiscent of one of the darkest chapters in human history, when millions of Africans were uprooted, enslaved, trafficked and auctioned to the highest bidder,” the UN said. 

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) estimates there are nearly 700,000 migrants in Libya, with an additional 179,000 internally displaced. 

Early this month, over 200 migrants drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean over the span of three days, bringing this year’s death toll to over 2,000. 

(Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)