VIA Daily Express
European leaders want to export the continent’s southern border to Africa in a bid to stem crossings of the Mediterranean and prevent a fresh migrant crisis.
In a letter to Eurocrats, the Interior Ministers of Germany and Italy have called for new EU-backed border posts to be set up on the frontier between Libya and Niger to vet would-be asylum seekers.
War-ravaged Libya, which is in a state of political chaos, is now the main gateway to Europe after a deal between Brussels and Turkey last year effectively closed that route off to economic migrants.
And EU officials have long spoken of it as the next major flashpoint in the migration crisis, saying the route must be closed down to prevent a rush of newcomers from central and sub-Saharan Africa.
European leaders have been unnerved by a recent surge in numbers of people making the perilous sea crossing to Italy which have put the continent’s new frontline member state under huge pressure. And with the bloc’s much-vaunted relocation scheme in tatters, facing stiff political opposition and an ongoing court challenge from Hungary and Slovakia, the need for a new solution is urgent.
In their proposal to the EU Commission Berlin’s Thomas de Maizière and Rome’s Marco Minniti said new border controls were needed In Italy to prevent a new crisis Europe would struggle to contain.
They argued EU border posts would save lives by “preventing hundreds of thousands of people once again risking their lives in Libya and on the Mediterranean Sea in the hands of smugglers”. The proposal appears to be an admission that the EU’s current policy of patrolling the Mediterranean and intercepting smugglers’ boats, known as Operation Sophia, is not working.
Critics have said the rescue missions simply act as a “taxi service” for migrants who have to be brought ashore in Europe after being plucked from the sea and is encouraging criminals to place them in unseaworthy vessels. Some in Italy have even accused charities running the operations of colluding with the smugglers by coordinating rescues, although NGOs deny this and eurocrats insist there is no evidence to support such claims.
The ministers pointed out that Italy, which is struggling in the economic doldrums, has already registered nearly 42,500 migrants this year, with 97 per cent having arrived by sea from Libya.
In response they called for the setting up of “an EU Mission at the border between Libya and Niger as soon as possible”, which would include “technical and financial support” for Libyan authorities fighting illegal migration. Libya struggled to control its 3,000 miles of southern borders with Sudan, Chad and Niger - largely made up of barren desert - even before the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Since then smugglers have capitalised on the post-uprising chaos to step up their lucrative business, with tens of thousands of people each year making the perilous crossing to Italy just some 300 kilometres away.
According to the Libyan government, between 7,000 and 8,000 migrants mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, are being held in Libyan detention centres after entering the country illegally.
Plans to shut off the Mediterranean migration route are being championed by Malta, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, which has proportionally taken in a huge number of people.
Eurocrats have proposed striking a similar deal with Libya as they did last year with Turkey, under which all economic migrants are sent back, whilst some EU leaders have even called for European detention camps in the country.