Libya and its North African neighbors are opposed to the EU's plan for "regional disembarkation platforms" to stem the flow of migrants entering the bloc, Tripoli's Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Taher Siala said in an Austrian newspaper interview Friday.
"All North African countries reject this proposal, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya, as well," Siala, who has been on an official visit to Vienna this week, told the Die Presse newspaper, as reported by Agence France-Press (AFP). "So with which countries does the EU want to agree these disembarkation platforms?" he asked in comments reported in German.
In June, EU member states approved the idea of creating centers outside Europe to assess migrants trying to reach the bloc and decide which are refugees in need of protection and which are economic migrants who should be returned to their home countries. The EU suggested setting up these "disembarkation platforms" in consultation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration. However, the establishment of Orwellian-sounding "regional disembarkation platforms" has raised questions over whether people would be left languishing at these centers with little hope of getting to Europe and no means or will to return home. Under international law, people legitimately in fear for their lives and safety are within their rights to try to reach a safe place and apply for asylum.
Siala estimated that around 30,000 illegal migrants were currently held in detention centers in Libya "and around 750,000 outside." Libya was working with the EU to send the migrants to their home countries, he said. "But unfortunately, some of these countries, many West African countries, refuse to take them back." To reduce the flow of migrants, Siala said Libya had reached an agreement with Chad, Niger and Sudan to bolster protection of its southern border. "That's actually where the European border begins, not the Mediterranean," he said.
The EU has had to look outside to solve the problem because reforms to its asylum system are blocked by the refusal of some countries to accept refugee quotas or to share the burden of hosting them in a fair way. European countries in the Mediterranean like Greece, Italy and more recently Spain feel abandoned to manage the influx alone, and tensions over how best to handle migrant numbers have increasingly fueled support for far-right parties in Europe.