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Malta recommends increased EU funding for Libya migrant return programmes

News agency says Maltese proposal pushes for a “significant increase in the number of migrants accepting voluntary returns to their country of origin”

Paul Cocks
1 March 2017, 11:47am
The UN says that migrants held in Libya suffer widespread abuse
The UN says that migrants held in Libya suffer widespread abuse
Malta has called on the European Union to step up funding for the United Nation's migration agency to return migrants stranded in Libya to their home countries further south in Africa, Reuters has reported.

The news agency is claiming to have – on Tuesday – seen a proposal that Malta, currently holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union, presented to the other 27 members of the bloc in February.

The proposal comes ahead of a summit of the bloc's 28 national leaders in Brussels next week, when the EU leaders will look at putting into practice agreements on new steps to stem African immigration.

The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates there are between 700,000 and one million migrants in Libya. It aims to help 7,000 people stranded there go back home this year, more than doubling its return programme from 2016.

The EU has already promised more funding to that end last December.

But the Maltese plan calls for “significant increase in the number of migrants accepting voluntary returns to their country of origin beyond the current target of 5,000.”

At a summit in Malta at the beginning of February, the bloc promised support to the UN-backed government in Libya to help bring about stability, as well as to curb migration from the coast.

If the strategy succeeds and the migrants’ exit towards Europe becomes more difficult, the struggling government in Tripoli fears a growing migrant buildup in Libya and has asked the bloc to beef up Libya's southern border and help return people.

Reuters reports that charter planes taking off from Tripoli under the IOM programme have already sent back 589 migrants so far this year, mainly to Senegal and Nigeria. For the most vulnerable ones, it offers additional help to let them get started back at home.

The IOM says about half of the migrants it helped move back last year were held in Libya's detention centres. Some others were rescued at sea while attempting the perilous journey, which killed more than 4,500 people in 2016.

The chaos in Libya following the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi has allowed people smugglers to operate with impunity as the internationally-recognised Tripoli government is challenged by powerful warlord Khalifa Haftar in the east.

The UN said last December that migrants held there suffer widespread abuse, including arbitrary detention, forced labour, rape and torture.

Paul Cocks joined MaltaToday after having spent years working in newspapers with The Times...