Bartolo claims EU agrees on Libyan aid, Borrell shows little knowledge of Malta request

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo says the EU Foreign Affairs Council has agreed to Malta’s proposal for a humanitarian mission in Libya with funds directed to international organisations working in the country

Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

EU foreign ministers have agreed to a Malta proposal for a humanitarian mission in Libya but the size of the aid package remains unknown, according to the Maltese foreign minister Evariist Bartolo.

Bartolo said that in the coming weeks, Libya would be given more help to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and to fight human trafficking. The funds will be directed towards international entities working in Libya, Bartolo said. “There are a quarter of a million migrants and refugees on the Libyan coast, and human traffickers get rich by sending them out to sea,” the minister, who recently has accused migrant rescue NGOs of abetting people traffickers, said.

But the European Union’s High Representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, on Wednesday indicated that he has poor knowledge of Malta’s call for a Libyan humanitarian mission.

Borrell made no mention of Malta’s call when he addressed a press conference following that video conference meeting. He only said that there could be no sustainable solution to the migration problem in Libya until the country was stabilised, and that was not something which was happening tomorrow. 

Borrell was asked by a German reporter whether the proposal by Malta had been discussed and whether help would be sent to Libya. He, however, appeared to be unaware of the details.

“Malta raised legitimate concerns about the possibility of having to face a wave of migrants coming from Libya and the risk that as a result, its health systems could be overwhelmed because of coronavirus. However Malta had not asked for a help package and no decision had been taken about this.”

It was then pointed out to him that the question was about help to Libya. Borrell said the EU had been reorienting resources already allocated to Libya in order that it not only improve its healthcare, but also its coast guard. He also pointed out that countries of the Visegrad group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) had given €35m to Libya to improve its capacity to fight coronavirus.

READ MOREMalta wants €100m EU aid intervention in Libya to stem migrant departures

Last week, Malta appealed to the EU to give the necessary assistance to Libya to help it deal with the COVID-19 crisis, which would, in turn, give migrants an incentive to stay in the country rather than putting their own lives at risk crossing the Mediterranean.

Bartolo also said the assistance given would include aid to the Libyan coast guard, which would receive €35 million.

He added that Libya still needs help to recover, and give new life to those who live within its borders. The pandemic, Bartolo argued was only making things worse and the healthcare system was not equipped to deal with the crisis. “The humanitarian crisis will not go away, so Malta will keep working for a permanent political solution,” he said. 

“We want a fair system where the other member states do their part and take their share of rescued migrants. At the same time, those who do not qualify for asylum should be returned to their countries,” Bartolo said.

Malta’s call for an aid package for Libya was made after it closed its ports to migrant arrivals from the north African state in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency. Both Malta and Italy shut their borders at a time when migrant departures from Libya started picking up.