April 25, 2017
Elettra Di Massa, EU Politics postgraduate student at LSE discusses the consequences of increased EU-Libya cooperation on migration management, and why this approach is not feasible, both on grounds of human rights and effective migration management.
Since the EU hammered out a deal with Turkey in March 2016, EU officials and national governments have been under the impression that it was a success given the decrease in numbers of crossings from Turkey to Greece. Yet, while these measures may have temporarily reduced the number of deaths in the Aegean Sea, this also effectively reopened the Central Mediterranean route, which is once again the most deadly route to Europe. In 2017, over 1000 people have died along this stretch of sea, setting a new tragic record.
Libya: The EU’s new best friend
It is no wonder then, that managing migration along the Central Mediterranean route is the new priority for EU Heads of State and Government in Malta. Already in the early days of his Council Presidency, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has clarified his intention to address the Refugee Crisis by replicating the EU-Turkey deal with other countries along the EU’s southern periphery, Libya in particular. The European Commission is also on board: The Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs met with Libyan Prime Minister Al-Sarraj in early February, and the two had “fruitful discussions to step up cooperation on migration.”
Stepping up cooperation with Libya on migration is particularly high up on the political agenda of Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni. Since Mr. Gentiloni took over the reins after his Democratic Party colleague Matteo Renzi resigned, following the defeat in December’s constitutional referendum, getting tough on migration control has been his primary objective. Libyan PM Al-Sarraj was in the Palazzo Chigi signing a memorandum committing both governments to reinforce cooperation on migration control. Clearly, Italy is determined to ‘act as a pioneer’ in this area.
Human rights and policy concerns
But if the EU-Turkey deal has proven anything in the past year, it is its unfeasibility. Not just because of the sheer moral catastrophe of the several human rights violations stemming from the readmission agreement or the ineffectiveness of the ‘one in one out’ relocation policy, but also because it has locked the EU in a situation of interdependence with Turkey, at a time of increasing nationalism and instability there. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s priorities are increasingly internally-focused. Although he won the referendum, his victory was so narrow (51.3%) that it is likely that he will still aim to maintain the support of the ultranationalist MHP.
In line with this increasingly anti-democratic course, EU relations and complying with EU rules predictably takes a backseat, all while the EU becomes more and more dependent on the migration deal. Of course, Erdogan knows this well, and has multiple times threatened to “open the gates,” unless there is progress on the visa liberalisation dialogue. This effectively puts the EU in a bleak situation, as the roles are reversed in who is influencing who.
The consequences of enhanced cooperation
This could only get worse if this type of deal was replicated with Libya, given the instability that has afflicted the country since the Arab Spring. If Turkey’s nationalist turn is cause for concern, the lack of functioning government in Libya which led many to dub it a quasi-failed state, should make us think again about training Libyan border guards and increasing political dialogue with the country. And let us not forget that, while Turkey is at least a signatory of the Refugee Convention (although not the Protocol), Libya has signed up to neither. Political instability, the lack of a functioning asylum system, and documented cases of abuse – a video popped up online documenting Libyan border guards whipping asylum-seekers – should automatically write off Libya as an unsafe country for refugees, by the EU’s own standards.
Yet, although the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, was adamant that the plans for cooperation with Libya are nothing like those with Turkey, there are many resemblances. Just one day after the EU dangled a €200 million carrot in front of Libya’s face, in exchange for their cooperation (allegedly) on curbing human trafficking, spokesman for the Libyan coastguard Ayoub Qassem announced that it had intercepted more than 400 migrants just off the coast of Tripoli.
The EU must be wary of using the EU-Turkey deal as a blueprint. Not only because of the devastating humanitarian consequences, but also because the EU already faces an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy which is partly due to the failed response to the Refugee Crisis. But entangling itself with and becoming dependent on authoritarian governments or semi-failed states is not the answer; if anything, it will continue to highlight the EU’s inconsistencies and disregard for the liberal democratic values it professes to be founded upon.
Photo Credits: Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive from Turkey to Skala Sykamias, Lesbos island, Greece. Spanish volunteers (life rescue team – with yellow-red clothes) from “Proactiva open arms” help the refugees.1989 Generation