[LIVE] EU leaders agree on plan to close off central Mediterranean route for refugees

EU leaders want to process asylum seekers inside Libya in €200 million pledge that includes action on southern Libyan borders

EU leaders gather for a family photo in Valletta, Malta at the summit hosted by Joseph Muscat (centre). Photo: Jeremy Wonnacott/DOI
EU leaders gather for a family photo in Valletta, Malta at the summit hosted by Joseph Muscat (centre). Photo: Jeremy Wonnacott/DOI

Additional reporting by Miriam Dalli

European Union leaders have agreed on a Malta plan to forge ahead with a €200 million package that includes stopping refugee boats from Libya and intensifying defence operations on the south of the Libyan land border.

In its Malta Declaration, the EU said it was determined to act “in full respect of human rights, international law and European values” together with UNHCR and IOM, as NGOs and unions warned leaders that stopping migrants in a Turkey-style agreement with Libya would breach international human rights.

A Libya agreement modelled on the EU-Turkey deal was pushed forward by the Maltese Presidency of the European Council, who will now work on presenting "a concrete plan" for implementation.

Whilst in 2016 arrivals on the Eastern Mediterranean route to one-third of the levels in 2015, over 181,000 arrivals were detected on the Central Mediterranean route. The number of persons dead or missing at sea has reached a new record every year since 2013.
The EU claims that its actions will reduce migratory flows and break the business model of smugglers, by working with Libya as the main country of departure.

The plan includes training and support to the Libyan national coats guard for the interception of migrant boats, in collaboration with the EU’s Operation Sophia.

“Efforts to stabilise Libya are now more important than ever, and the EU will do its utmost to contribute to that objective,” the leaders agreed.

In what can prove to be tricky due to the existing multiple factions, the member states agreed, “where possible”, to step up cooperation with and assistance to Libyan regional and local communities and with international organisations active in the country.

The EU wants an “integrated” approach between Libya and Europol, military operations under the Common Security and Defence Policy, and the European Border and Coast Guard.

Inside Libya, the EU said it wants to “enhance border management capacity”, track alternative smuggling routes, and through the Italian agreement with Libya sighed yesterday, introduce “better operational cooperation with Member States and the European Border and Coast Guard on preventing departures and managing returns.”

To bring onboard the factions controlling the different parts of Libya, the EU will also pay local communities on Libyan coasts and other land borders which are involved in trafficking, “to improve their socio-economic situation and enhance their resilience as host communities.”

At the same time as preventing migrant crossings, asylum seekers will be process inside Libya, for which the EU says it will “ensure” adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya “together with the UNHCR and IOM”; and step up assisted voluntary returns.

The EU wants to carry out information campaigns at migrants in Libya and countries of origin and transit, to encourage them not to make the crossing.

In line with the Valletta Action Plan, the EU will increase migration funding within the €31 billion Official Development Assistance for Africa, which includes €1.8 billion funded by the EU budget and €152 million from Member States’ contributions.

“We agree to act determinedly and speedily to achieve the objectives set out in this Declaration,” the Council said.

The European Council will review progress on the overall approach at its meetings in March and in June on the basis of a report from the Maltese Presidency.