By Duncan Robinson
Another day, another migration deal. Rome this weekend played host to 60 leaders of tribal groups from Libya, who were invited to come up with ways to secure the country’s 5,000km southern border.
The Italian government has taken the lead in dealing with the Libyans (whose fractured state makes the plural appropriate). It is part of the wider EU strategy aimed at stopping people coming to Europe while simultaneously reducing the number of deaths at sea.
After the conference Italian interior minister Marco Minniti hailed the agreement to set up a border patrol along the southern frontier: “Securing Libya’s southern border means securing Europe’s southern border.”
In Italy and beyond, officials in national capitals are hoping that the plan works: 180,000 people entered Italy last year, predominantly from Libya, with 4,500 people dying or missing on the way.
Officials are not banking on this year being any better, but there are some signs that it may: initial indications are that fewer people are entering Libya from Niger.
Although there are a lot of migrants in Libya, the majority do not want to head to Europe. For many, Libya is the destination – or so says International Organisation for Migration, which conducted 8,000 interviews in the country. The majority – about 60 per cent – want to stay, according to IOM.
If the EU’s strategy in the central Mediterranean works, it will be a bitter success. Libya is not Turkey, which was the subject of a similarly controversial migration deal. Aid workers describe detention camps in north Libya that host migrants trying to reach Europe as the worst conditions they have seen.
The EU has banked on an ill-equipped and unprofessional Libyan coastguard intercepting people smugglers before they leave Libyan waters – effectively before they become Europe’s problem. Meanwhile, Frontex reports – leaked to The Intercept – baldly discuss the involvement of some Libyan authorities in the smuggling that they are supposed to prevent.
Whether the strategy works or not, Libya will still mark a moral watershed for the EU’s migration policy.