BRUSSELS - A migrant deal between the European Union and Libya seems closer after leaders of the EU institutions met with the Libyan prime minister on Thursday. Details of the deal, proposed by the EU last week, were discussed ahead of Friday's informal EU summit in Malta.
The main discussion point at the summit will be how to control migration from North Africa into Europe, before spring approaches, when the numbers are expected to increase.
The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, will propose “additional concrete and operational measures” to EU heads of states on Friday to stop the trafficking and smuggling networks. Tusk says a deal between the EU and Libya is within reach.
“Now it is time to close down the route from Libya to Italy. […]This is not sustainable for Europe or for Libya, as the smugglers let people drown and undermine the authority of the Libyan state for their own profit.”
The EU migrant proposal sets aside $214 million to train the Libyan coast guard, invest in local communities and financially support international refugee and migrant agencies. In exchange, the Libyan authorities are to stop the thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
The prime minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj, says cooperation on migration issues is also in Libya's interest.
“This will lead us to solve the problem and to save the lives of the irregular migration and return them to the countries of origin, where they should hopefully find some jobs and some growth in order not to think of leaving and migrating at the risk of their lives.”
The migrants using the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy are mostly from African countries. Last year, 181,000 migrants arrived, and around 5,000 drowned during the crossing.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have all criticized Libya’s human rights record. Libya has been dealing with political instability, terrorism and economic stagnation since 2011. The authority of Prime Minister al-Sarraj does not cover the entire Libyan territory, but the EU backs his government.
Watch: EU Summit Aims to Stem Migration From Libya
The EU also selected five African countries – Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Senegal and Mali – which will all receive financial support to create jobs. In exchange, the countries have to cooperate by halting migrants who aim to travel to Europe illegally.
While supporting EU migrant deals, members of the European Parliament condemned the U.S. travel ban during a debate on Wednesday. An executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump last week temporarily denied entry to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Barbara Spinelli, an Italian Member of the European Parliament, says that the condemnation by the EU of the U.S. is hypocritical.
"I wonder if the EU institutions are aware of the worthlessness of their protests against Trump while at the same time developing operations that violate the Geneva Convention and ignore the clear recommendation made by the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights," she noted, " who said that the return of refugees and migrants to Libya should be avoided because those who try to escape face serious risks: torture in detention camps, sexual violence against women and executions.”
Despite the outcry by some about the treatment of migrants and refugees, there is heavy political pressure to control migrant flows. Right wing politicians in Europe who speak tough words on closing borders are ranking high in polls for upcoming elections in The Netherlands, France and Germany.
A migrant deal between Turkey and the EU in March 2016 significantly reduced the flow along the eastern Mediterranean route, after more than a million migrants and refugees entered into Europe in 2015. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey Thursday to strengthen ties. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened several times to quit the deal over disagreements between Turkey and the EU over a range of issues.