By Chiara Loschi

Seven years after the Arab uprisings, Libya’s deinstitutionalization of the established order is far from being a success story.



Securitization migration in a hybrid security scenario

The EU set a broader engagement with the different dimensions of the Libyan crisis, thereby signaling a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of its security implications; however, while deploying a great diplomatic effort with both local and international actors, in practice the EU approached the crisis in Libya as border enforcement and control.

This strategy was underpinned by a narrative in which migratory flows across Libya became increasingly complicated through the Islamic State gaining terrain in Libya late in 2014.

The migration question captured much of the agenda on the European member states and it was increasingly portrayed as a threat. The EU started to address the migratory flows to Europe through a purely securitarian approach, designing a securitization of migration that contributed to swiftly reframing the Libyan crisis into essentially a migration crisis.

The 2017 Strategic Review of EU CSDP-missions in Libya, including EUNAVFOR MED, stressed that the political framework of EU future engagement in Libya needed to build on the Joint Communication on the Central Mediterranean of 25 January 2017 and on the Malta Declaration of 3 February 2017. This specification amounts to emphasizing the continued centrality of migration among EU security concerns.

The securitization of migration, and the framing of the latter as a crisis with destabilizing potential have led to the EU’s normative commitments being overlooked, if not abandoned, in spite of their relevance precisely in times of crisis.

Such a patent intention-implementation gap has prompted the censure of a broad set of actors, from human rights organizations to UN agencies, which theoretically share the EU’s same normative standpoint and could, therefore, represent natural allies in times of crisis.

Moreover, the lack of authorisation to operate inside Libyan waters has made the fulfillment of the missions’ original mandates particularly problematic.

The recognition of this impasse highlighted the need to strengthen local partnerships with Libyan stakeholders. This happened for instance for EUNAVFOR MED’s tasks, for which the training of the Libyan coastguard became one of its most prominent activities of 2017. However, the monitoring of progress and the evaluation of the impact of training modules tailored to the Libyan coastguard has proved particularly controversial.

International experts’ reports about the alleged misconduct of Libyan coastguard officers – among which beneficiaries of EU-sponsored training are to be found – have raised doubts about the effectiveness and sustainability of this strategy as the most thorny issues.

In the absence of more all-encompassing security sector reform (SSR) and thorough vetting procedures, short-sighted security responses may well lead to the unwarranted legitimization, co-option, and institutionalization of highly controversial security actors.

In practice, Libya displays a quintessential case of hybrid security governance, in which the state is forced to share authority, legitimacy, and capacity with other structures to provide security, welfare and representation.

The civilian CSDP-mission EUBAM Libya (EU Integrated Border Management Assistance Mission) focuses on Security sector reform (SSR) advice and planning but as officers confirm, efforts at SSR and DDR have suffered from the lack of an integrated and over-arching institutional framework, as these were “only progressing in an ad-hoc manner”.

The EU framework for CSDP missions as outlined by “Elements for an EU-wide strategic framework to support security sector reform” does not rule out non-state actors: the document fosters inclusive societal participation across all relevant stakeholders including, most notably, non-state security actors, guerrilla movements, informal providers of security, etc.

On the contrary, EUBAM’s mandate forces the mission to deal with Government of National Accord (GNA) representatives as the sole internationally recognized authority responsible for security sector reform.

These developments could lead to a serious gap in the humanitarian response to this crisis. Controversy about the abuses perpetrated on migrants and asylum-seekers in Libyan detention centers offers a clear illustration of this.

Through the externalization of border controls, the EU has indirectly promoted the massive resort to unsafe detention schemes for the management of irregular migration in Libya, prompting allegations that the EU crisis response brought about a “policy-made humanitarian crisis”.

No one has a real understanding of what happens on the ground”

Moreover, international organizations and staff still work by remote management – brought about by security concerns and strict EU regulations – which is far from ideal in terms of monitoring, evaluation, and accountability.

Apart from daily visits to a limited area in Tripoli, EU staff are prevented from accessing Libya and the main areas where EU-funded projects are carried out. Similar constraints apply to other Tunis-based humanitarian actors, who are skeptical about the accuracy of their own and external needs assessment and claim that independent oversight is limited by stricter security regulations.

The opinion is well summarized in the idea that “We are all in the same fog, no one has a real understanding of what happens on the ground”.

At the same time, INGOs perceive to have little room to influence and renegotiate EUTF strategies, and that, due to rigid bureaucracy, their interventions risk being more politically-driven than needs-driven, with a slightly uncontrolled flow of money disbursed for the sake of EU single MSs stability and constituencies’ satisfaction.

In conclusion, our study not only confirms that EU-sponsored crises response programmes in Libya are often subject to high politicization and pressure from Brussels, it also highlights how by securitizing migration, EU leaders have appeared to address the needs of European audiences more than those of Libyan stakeholders and local vulnerable groups.

The intention-implementation gap of EU crisis response in Libya has high reputational costs, which in turn may bear political consequences against political reconciliation in the longer run.


Chiara Loschi – Research fellow at EUNPACK HORIZON2020 Research Project EU crisis response in Libya


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