Magazine article New African

Fortress Europe: The European Union's Determination to Prevent as Many Migrants as Possible from Entering Its Borders Is Exacerbating the Conditions That Now Exist in Libya

Magazine article New African

Fortress Europe: The European Union's Determination to Prevent as Many Migrants as Possible from Entering Its Borders Is Exacerbating the Conditions That Now Exist in Libya

Article excerpt

Rather than provide safe, legal passage for migrants and asylum seekers wishing to enter Europe--to escape Libya--the European Union has opted for a strategy of securing its borders and actively working to keep migrants in North Africa or to repatriate them.

The stark reality is that this leaves many stuck in the most appalling conditions and drastically increases dangerous illegal migration routes and smuggling activity.

As anti-immigration sentiment continues to grow in Europe, the European Commission looks unlikely to change this policy any time soon, and instead attempts to help by offering cosmetic aid.

Efforts arc being made to improve the conditions of detention centres and increase the capacity of the Tripoli government, but meanwhile, severe human rights abuses linger and African migrants are left stranded in Libya as a direct result of European policy.

"There's a dichotomy in the F.U response. On the one hand, they are working to improve detention centres in Libya and they've also increased their efforts to help the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but at the same time, they work with the Libya coast guard to prevent boats [of people] from leaving Libya, and that includes manv trying to flee these conditions," said Raphael Shilhav, EU Migration Policy Advisor for Oxfam.

Indeed, in February 2017, Italy signed an MOU with the UN-backed government, offering economic provisions in exchange for a significant reduction in migration flows. The EU quickly endorsed the agreement in what is known as 'the Malta Declaration'.

In April, the EU Trust Fund for Africa earmarked S901T1 to implement the declaration and began building Libyan institutional capacities, setting up programmes to improve detention centres and increasing the capacity of the Libyan coast guard, which has taken the lion's share of assistance. The coast guard now acts to block smuggling routes, enforce a UN embargo on Libya and return migrants to Libya. The initiative has been incredibly successful and European media outlets were happy to report that migrant arrivals to Italy by sea fell by a third in 2017 compared to one year earlier.

Ultimately, however, this means more migrants are trapped in Libya, as the number of migrants has not fallen, it is only that security has tightened.

In reality, most of the $90m has been spent on blocking migrants from leaving Libya, as there has been little improvement to detention centres, says Salah. "In some detention centres there's more food, there's a bit more medical treatment but we haven't seen any improvement to the situation of migrants and refugees as a whole."

Security is big business

Security is also big business for European firms. The externalisation of European borders has meant lucrative contracts for the arms, security and IT industries and companies like BAE Systems, Leonardo and Thales have been lobbying for its continuation. The market is estimated to be worth $56bn by 2022.

The smuggling industry has also benefitted incredibly from European border strengthening policies, as many look to ever-more dangerous and illicit routes of migration. Conversely, humanitarian organisations operating in Libyan waters are becoming increasingly monitored and blocked by European intent. These organisations have been offering support and safety nets for migrants who undertake illegal crossings and often end up in danger. More than 20,000 have died at sea trying to reach Italy from Libya, according to the IOM, making it the deadliest border for migrants in the world.

Yet humanitarian organisations are being accused of malpractice by EU agencies and are being increasingly closed down. The Italian government made NGOs sign a code of conduct' not to enter Libyan territorial waters and not to obstruct the Libyan coast guard's operations.

"The environment seems to focus on stopping people arriving to Europe rather than putting the emphasis on saving lives and ensuring people can escape the Libyan hell they are in," explained Shilhav. …

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