Tusk: Libya migration deal ‘within reach’

EU council president Donald Tusk says closing down the central Mediterranean migrant route between Libya and Europe is within reach following meeting with Libyan and Italian prime ministers

Fayez Al-Serraj and Donald Tusk
Fayez Al-Serraj and Donald Tusk

The European Union council president Donald Tusk said the Friday summit in Malta could be a breakthrough in the bloc’s attempts to stem the flow of asylum seekers from Libya.

Following a meeting in Brussels with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Libyan Prime Minister of the UN-backed but fragile Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Al-Serraj, Tusk said the trio discussed the EU migration deal with Turkey.

“Now it is time to close down the route from Libya to Italy,” he said, adding “I can assure you that it is within our reach.”

“What we need is the full determination to do that. We owe it first and foremost to those who suffer and risk their lives. But we also owe it to Italians and all Europeans.”

In the Malta meeting, EU leaders are expected to discuss the migration p[lan and the mooted deal with Libya, which has so far been resisted by the European Commission.

The Maltese presidency of the European Council mooted a plan for the European Commission to explore a controversial way to send migrants and refugees back to Libya, by suspending the international principle of ‘non-refoulement’ in times of crisis.

The proposal, carried in a non-paper presented to home affairs ministers, contained a stunning suggestion to suspend the international humanitarian rule that prohibits pushbacks of migrants fleeing persecution, in times of particular crisis.

Malta was said to enjoy not only the backing of Mediterranean EU states, but also those northern countries who will have elections this year and are facing an onslaught from far-rightists and nationalist populist parties.

In an aide-memoire that was later evaluated by the European Commission, Malta was told that suspending non-refoulement would raise “complex legal issues” under European and international, as well as inside the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.

While vowing to support the Libyan people, Tusk said reducing the number of irregular migrants risking their lives crossing the Central Mediterranean is a priority.

“This is not sustainable for Europe nor for Libya, as the smugglers let people drown and undermine the authority of the Libyan state for their own profit. Tomorrow I will put forward additional concrete and operational measures to strengthen our work, to more effectively tackle the smuggling and trafficking networks and help manage migratory flows more effectively.”