Migration and Libya: What will/should EU do at Malta Summit?

According to media reports the EU leaders at Malta summit will study also the possibility of sending migrants back to Libya. In general how do you assess EU approach toward migration crisis in Central Mediterranean? What are the biggest obstacles of solving this, disunity of the EU, problematic situation in countries like Libya, combination of it? Read few comments.

Lorenzo NannettiInternational Affairs Analyst

It’s a combination of both: EU doesn’t really have a clear plan for dealing with migration except trying to find a solution to the “how do we physically stop them moving across the Med”, which overlooks the overall dynamics of the migration flows (reasons why, situation in countries of origin and countries where they pass through, trafficking, integration in Europe, etc…”

With no clear common answer to the migration issue as a whole (also because some countries and leaders deliberately choose to ignore such dynamics because they don’t fit their political and consensus narrative) the “how do we physically stop them moving across the Med” becomes one of the very few shared concerns pretty much everyone agrees on – except that they all see it in a different light and they mostly disagree on how to do it.
However, with almost anyone thinking that “stopping them in Africa/bring them back to Africa” should be part of any strategy, agreeing on that part becomes one of the very few options that UE is allowed to work on. But then we clash with the real situation in North Africa, which means that most methods of control of the flows will mostly fail because there’s no single partner we can deal with.

In other words, agreements with North African countries are not bad per se, but they are currently just wishful thinking and anyway a common, comprehensive strategy is lacking – that is why such measures are, in my opinion, doomed to fail (meaning that even in the best case we may get some respite, but overall the pressure on North African countries will increase anyway).

There’s an illusion in all European thinking about stopping migration flows in North Africa by making agreements with local countries. The illusion is that they can stop these flows indefinitely and no matter what. Italy’s deal with Gaddafi is taken as proof of this, and Spain’s with Morocco too. But if we look close enough, we have to be aware of something else.

1) Flows can’t be stopped, they can only be shifted from one route to another. Spain’s deal with Morocco didn’t erase those flows, it just rerouted them to the Central Med route. In other words, people will continue moving, and will continue trying to get Europe, one way or another.

2) Gaddafi didn’t face current levels of migration and also died before we could see how much his system could sustain. Sooner or later, such a system would feel overflowed and unable to deal with it, which brings us to the real insight:

Imagine we make a deal with North African countries and the flows are completely stopped there. However, with the original drivers still active and no exit point, pressure on those NA countries will increase. And they will act like a dam that is facing growing amounts of water. At a certain point, the pressure and level risk being too much for them to deal with and they will risk instability, or worse. So, like a dam, when the level starts to become dangerous they will just… reopen the floodgates. Meaning they will make people move again. Or blackmail us for more and more (and more, and more) help – and maybe opening the flows again.

We may gain… how much? 3 years? 4-5 years?… or respite. But 5 years are nothing. Gaddafi was killed 5 years ago and look at the situation now. 5 years are nothing and we may end up in 5 years with a situation that is even worse than now to deal with just because we chose not to tackle the real dynamics and pretended we could ignore it.

Dynamics move and change. And adapt. When you do nothing, critical situations don’t solve themselves. They usually get worse.

Angeliki Dimitriadi, Research Fellow, Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)

It seems that the EU-Turkey Statement is a blueprint for the management of the migration ‘crisis’, however there are two issues with that. First, the deal with Turkey in itself has been ‘successful’ only in limiting arrivals. On the other hand it has placed an immense burden on Greece and even more importantly UNHCR recently admitted that “UNHCR does not benefit at this stage from unhindered and predictable access to pre-removal centres in Turkey and to the Duzici reception centre.” Which means that monitoring of returns is at best random.

If this model of cooperation is problematic between the EU and Turkey, with the latter having undertaken commitments in line with international law, Libya is an even more Libya is an ever more precarious case and at best it seems naïve to believe that at present returns are feasible.

Libya is in the midst of a civil war. Even with UNHCR and IOM’s involvement it is unclear why the EU thinks that it would be possible to implement returns within the boundaries of international law. It is far more likely that those returned will end up in detention centers (we saw this happening during the Italian-Libyan Agreement of Friendship under Gaddafi).

Libya is not a signatory to the international conventions and it is precisely because of the lawlessness that many are fleeing. Returns will likely endanger many and place them in precarious position.

Neither the EU-Turkey Statement nor any agreement with Libya in fact focus on addressing the root causes of migration or providing solution to those in need. Instead the common theme is to consider most flows as ‘economically’ motivated, yet increasingly it is becoming clear that we don’t know exactly what pushes many to leave, whether they will apply for asylum and what their outcome will be.

In other words, by predetermining the return of those arriving from Libya we are also predetermining their motivations and reasons for leaving! Instead if the focus is on combatting smuggling and creating ‘orderly’ migration routes, the answer is to make way for legal means of moving either through visa applications in neighboring countries or direct asylum processing through embassies.

Unfortunately this seems increasingly unlikely with the rise in far-right and anti-immigrant parties in several countries on the continent, however it remains the best solution in ensuring access to safety and undercutting smuggling profits.

Andrew Geddes, Professor, Director, Migration Policy Centre, European University Institute

The biggest problems are the underlying causes of this migration. People are moving because of conflict and because they are poor. A ‘migration business’ has developed to help people move, including smugglers and criminal gangs who profit from people’s desire to try to get to Europe. The EU has not been able to develop a unified response. A basic problem is that they can agree on controls, but to be really effective it’s also necessary for EU member states to share responsibility for migrants and refugees. It might also be necessary for them to think about how they can disrupt the business model of the smugglers by actually being a little more open to some migration and taking the most vulnerable people away from the cruel business of the smugglers.

Daniela IrreraAssociate Professor of Political Science and Global Civil Society, Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Catania

Once again we assist to an EU attempt to build a consensus among their members on another initiative to mitigate the effect of refugee crisis. And once again, it is not part of a coherent and rationale policy, rather a replication of the agreement signed with Turkey. The upcoming Malta summit will probably raise a concern and provide one confirmation.

The concern deals with the continuous tendency of EU leaders to negotiate with states marked by political and social instability. A potential agreement with Libya would be even worse than the Refugee Facility, offering no guarantee and compliance to basic security conditions. And it would be extremely difficult for the EU to assure the expected surveillance and monitoring assistance, despite the declarations. The Refugee Facility is currently implemented by UN agencies and NGOs, which manage the execution of various humanitarian projects in Turkey and along the border with Syria. There is no actual guarantee that this can happen in Libya as well. Without this parallel action, the capacity action of Libyan authorities and the resettlement can be hardly promoted.

The resettlement itself is the confirmation which the Malta summit is going to provide. Instead of facing the crisis of integration models in many European countries and improve the legal conditions of protection, the EU is discussing again on which tool may be most efficient in preventing people to come. Until the focus will continue to be on the resettlement issues, nothing can positively change.

Christian Kaunert, Academic Director, Professor of European Politics, Institute for European Studies

I think the Libya proposal is very concerning. The exact wording seems to be an increase of voluntary returns, which in itself is not illegal. However, if these were forced returns, the proposal seems very problematic given the security situation there. In fact, under the terms of the Geneva Convention that would be illegal if we discuss refugees, and under the terms of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, this could be legally problematic even for irregular migrants in cases of torture in the country (also the Charter prohibits mass expulsions). So the proposal could test the limits of a legal approach.

More generally, the EU’s approach is very difficult. There are several problems in the region, ranging of course from the conflict in Syria and Libya, to unstable governments in Egypt, Tunisia, and potentially many more as the conflict in the region grows. It is therefore very difficult for the EU to stop the flow given the complexity of patrolling sea borders to Greece or Italy. The EU will push for agreements with Mediterranean countries, but these could well be challenged in EU courts, notably the Court of Justice, or even the Strasbourg court (or even national constitutional courts). Legally, many solutions could be problematic. In the end, the situation will only improve substantially by making the neighbourhood more stable.

Roxana Barbulescu, Academic University Fellow, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds

Disagreement between the member states is a given and a normal circumstance irrespective of the problem or policy area we are talking about. Controlling migration from the Central Mediterranean is nonetheless crucial because it is indeed where most death occur. In other words, controlling migration on this route singlehanded reduces deaths at sea. The more problematic aspect of controlling immigration from Libya and cooperation with Libya in doing it so raises questions not only about human rights, of that if the EU willing to do to control immigration but also about the effectiveness of this measure when Libya has a weak government with little or no popular support. In a fragile state on the brink of collapse we have to ask ourselves if the EU wants to empower unpopular authorities to control the exit from their country of primarily foreign nationals: migrants traveling the Central Mediterranean route are North Africans and Syrians not Libyan nationals.

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