European Commission shoots down migration deal with Libya

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos rules out repeat of EU-Turkey migration deal with Libya, tells MEPs North African country is too unstable

The European Commission all but ruled out a migration deal with Libya which Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said was urgently needed to stem the flow of asylum seekers towards Europe.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told MEPs that the North African country is too unstable to replicate the EU-Turkey migrant deal with Libya.

"Let me tell you that we cannot duplicate the EU-Turkey statement, the situation is not similar in Libya," Avramopoulos said.

The proposal was floated by Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat earlier this month as he kicked off Malta’s six month term as president of the EU, but the Commission has echoed the concerns aired by Maltese foreign affairs minister George Vella who also underlined the instability in Libya as a stumbling block towards reaching an agreement with the troubled nation.

The EU last March agreed with Turkey to halt migrants from moving to the EU in return for billions in humanitarian aid and political perks, such as visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish nationals.

Addressing the European Parliament last week, Muscat called for a similar agreement and said that after paying Libya to stem the flow of migrants leaving its shores by boat, the EU can look into organising “humanitarian safe passages and corridors, that would get recognised asylum seekers to Europe safely.”

Government sources said that any deal with Libya “must include strong investment and an aid package, while technical assistance should also be provided” – a suggestion that raises the prospect of money for Libya and the possibility of European coastguard patrols placed just outside Libyan waters to take part in the interception of migrant boats.

But Avramopoulos said the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, had tried, without much success, to establish contact with Libyan authorities. Currently three separate governments and countless militias are vying for control in Libya.

Libya’s lawless state, following the toppling of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has left criminal gangs of migrant smugglers free to send a stream of boats carrying desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

"We are far away from saying that we have managed to have a real discussion with them," he said.

He said some 300,000 people are waiting for the right time to cross the Mediterranean sea to reach Italy.

"The country is still open as a corridor to all the ones who exploit the desperate people and right now, according to reports, more than 300,000 people are on the shores of Libya," he said.