EU leaders agree on plan to close off central Mediterranean migrant route

EU leaders have agreed on a plan to crackdown on smuggling networks sailing boats from the coast of Libya in a bid to reach Europe.

The new agreement reached in the Maltese capital Valetta on 3 February is based on EU-Turkey deal from last year, which attempts to stem the flow of illegal migrants trying to cross the Eastern Mediterranean seas. Perilous journeys have cost 13,000 people their lives in over six years.

Since the EU-Turkey deal was struck last year reduced migrant crossings are taking place from the Western Balkans to Greece. In the last four months of 2016 there was a reduction of 98% compared to the previous year.

Although the EU already has military patrols in the international waters off Libya, it also wants to train, equip and support the Libyan national coast guard and other relevant agencies to enable the country to disrupt smuggling gangs and prevent migrants leaving African soil. The plan also includes close cooperation with Egypt and Tunisia to tackle alternative routes

New refugee camps will also be established in Libya to help house stranded migrants. .

“This is the only way to stop people dying in the desert and at sea and this is also the only way to gain control over migration in Europe,” said European Union president Donald Tusk. “We will deliver economic assistance to local communities in Libya to improve their situation, and help them shelter stranded migrants.”

“We have achieved progress. We are moving in the right direction,” said Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. “I think that the replication of the Turkey agreement with North African countries, breaking the business model of the smugglers, should remain a firm goal of any realistic and sustainable migration policy.”

The UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration continue to help process asylum claims of refugees in Libyan camps and returning.  those whose claims are rejected.