Calls for the EU to close migrant route from Niger to Libya

Migrants in Libya in a transit station for migrants.

TMP – 10/06/2017

As more than 1,200 migrants have died this year while crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, calls are being raised for setting up an EU mission to secure Libya’s southern border.

In a letter to the European Commission sent in May, German and Italian interior minsters Thomas de Maizière and Marco Minniti said that they are convinced that “we all must do more to prevent that hundreds of thousands of people once again risk their lives in Libya and on the Mediterranean Sea in the hands of smugglers.”

The letter called for the setting up of “an EU Mission at the border between Libya and Niger as soon as possible.”

To close the migrant route from Niger to Libya, the ministers are seeking support for growth and development programmes in local communities along the border. Other measures include technical and financial support for Libyan authorities fighting illegal migration, particularly at the border with Niger.

Supporting the appeal by Germany and Italy, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, said strengthening the north African country’s border management was only a good idea. She also said there already was an EU mission in place, led by Italy, that specifically addressed the issue.

As part of this mission, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti earlier in May handed over four patrol boats to the Libyan coastguard, to be followed by another six, as part of deal to combat people smugglers.

The Libyan coastguard, however, wants the boats to be armed. “These boats are not fitted with arms. We can’t use them for patrols when the traffickers are increasingly armed,” Abdullah Tomia, a senior naval officer in charge of cooperation with Italy said.

“We’ve asked Italy to arm the patrol boats. Before the revolution, we were dealing with unarmed traffickers. But now we are up against fierce, armed gangs,” Tomia said.