Mi­grant cri­sis gets new EU fo­cus

Poli­cies aimed at block­ing asy­lum seek­ers from start­ing points

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - NI­COLE WIN­FIELD In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Elaine Gan­ley of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

ROME — Euro­pean Union of­fi­cials on Thurs­day reaf­firmed the need to tackle Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis in Libya and sur­round­ing coun­tries, dur­ing con­tin­ued re­sis­tance in Europe to wel­come refugees.

Italy an­nounced about $34 mil­lion in new in­vest­ments aimed at pre­vent­ing mi­grants from ever reach­ing or leav­ing Libya’s law­less shores where smug­glers op­er­ate. And EU in­te­rior min­is­ters warned that they might sanc­tion mi­grants’ home coun­tries with visa re­stric­tions if they refuse to take their people back when their Euro­pean asy­lum bids fail.

Europe’s mi­gra­tion cri­sis was on the agenda at two meet­ings Thurs­day: an in­for­mal EU-wide in­te­rior min­is­ters meet­ing in Tallinn, Es­to­nia, and a meet­ing in Rome of for­eign min­is­ters from Libya, sur­round­ing African coun­tries and se­lected Euro­pean part­ners.

As anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment con­tin­ues to mount across Europe, Italy has in­creased its com­plaints that it can no longer shoul­der the bur­den of the mi­grant cri­sis alone. Faced with na­tional elec­tions later this year or next, the Ital­ian govern­ment has re­cently threat­ened to close its ports to non-Ital­ian flagged rescue ships in hopes of forc­ing other Euro­pean coun­tries to take in mi­grants.

In Rome, For­eign Min­is­ter An­gelino Al­fano said Italy was pledg­ing about $11 mil­lion to help Libya’s south­ern neigh­bors — Niger, Chad and Su­dan — bet­ter con­trol their bor­ders so mi­grants can’t reach Libya. An­other $20 mil­lion is des­ig­nated for the vol­un­tary repa­tri­a­tions of mi­grants who reach Libya and de­cide not to con­tinue their jour­neys north.

“In or­der to lower the num­bers leav­ing Libya, we have to lower the num­bers en­ter­ing,” Al­fano said at a news con­fer­ence.

In Tallinn, the in­te­rior min­is­ters called for aid groups con­duct­ing rescue op­er­a­tions in the Mediter­ranean to fol­low a code of con­duct, after pros­e­cu­tors in Italy have ac­cused some of com­plic­ity with Libyan-based smug­glers.

The min­is­ters also vowed to crack down on coun­tries that refuse to take their cit­i­zens home when their asy­lum bids fail in Europe, in­clud­ing im­pos­ing lim­its to visa pro­grams.

And they promised to “en­hance the ca­pac­ity of the Libyan coast guard,” to bet­ter pa­trol its coasts and turn back mi­grant boats, de­spite re­newed crit­i­cism from Amnesty In­ter­na­tional that such a pol­icy is “reck­less” given Libya’s law­less­ness.

On the eve of the meet­ing, the hu­man-rights group said the turn­back pol­icy risked vic­tim­iz­ing des­per­ate mi­grants even more since they risk grave hu­man-rights abuses once they are re­turned to Libya and be­come trapped there.

More than 2,000 mi­grants to Europe have died at sea so far this year while more than 73,380 have reached Italy. By year’s end, the num­ber of ar­rivals is ex­pected to match or ex­ceed the 181,400 who made it in 2016, which was more than in the two pre­vi­ous years, the re­port said.

Amnesty said it was “deeply prob­lem­atic” to un­con­di­tion­ally fund and train Libya, where hu­man rights are lack­ing and the coast guard has been known for vi­o­lence and even smug­gling.

The group cited an Au­gust in­ci­dent off Libya’s coast in which at­tack­ers shot at a Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders rescue boat. A U.N. panel of ex­perts on Libya later con­firmed that two of­fi­cers from a coast guard fac­tion were in­volved.

In May, the Libyan coast guard in­ter­vened in a searc­hand-rescue op­er­a­tion an­other non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion was per­form­ing. The coast guard of­fi­cers threat­ened mi­grants with weapons, took com­mand of their wooden boat and took it back to Libya, Amnesty re­ported.

Amnesty is not alone in its con­cern.

The search-and-rescue di­rec­tor for Save the Chil­dren, Rob MacGil­livray, said in a state­ment that res­cued mi­grants 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.

EU Mi­gra­tion Com­mis­sioner Dim­itri Avramopou­los con­ceded at a re­cent news con­fer­ence in Paris that the EU is draw­ing on a coun­try in “very pre­car­i­ous con­di­tions.”

Europe’s mi­gra­tion cri­sis was on the agenda at two meet­ings Thurs­day: an in­for­mal EUwide in­te­rior min­is­ters meet­ing in Tallinn, Es­to­nia, and a meet­ing in Rome of for­eign min­is­ters from Libya, sur­round­ing African coun­tries and se­lected Euro­pean part­ners.

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