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EU's dirty dealings with Libya over refugees

  • 12 February 2019


In 2018, an estimated 23,000 refugee children arrived in Europe through Mediterranean trajectories, landing in Italy, Spain and Greece. During the first two weeks of January 2019, 400 refugee children arrived in Europe.

The United Nations International Children's emergency Fund (UNICEF) is asking the EU to adopt 'a region-wide approach' to prevent further suffering for minors, at a time when European countries seem to be waging a diplomatic battle between themselves over which country is the most adamant in refusing entry to refugees, children or adults alike.

If the international community provided the proper platforms for UNICEF to take their recommendation further, it would create a direct clash between the concept of human rights and the politics of exclusion unabashedly adopted by the EU.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has recently warned that EU member states are risking 'violating the 1951 Refugee Convention and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea' due to their insistence that Libya assumes responsibility for asylum search and rescue.

Recent spats have again occurred between Malta and Italy over the fate of refugees on board Sea Watch 3. As the wellbeing of rescued refugees was marginalised, the political bickering took centre stage. The right-wing sentiment flourishing across the political spectrum and gaining ground among the people is fuelling misplaced admiration in society towards leaders assuming an anti-immigrant stance.

Closing borders and ports remain a priority for the EU, whose aim is to reduce or eliminate the visibility of refugees. Meanwhile, the perils of human trafficking in Libya are ignored, despite the EU's complicity in sending refugees to their deaths away from Europe's borders.

If refugees drown in the Mediterranean, scrutiny is directed towards Europe. If the deaths happen in Libya, the EU is able to manipulate human rights rhetoric alongside the bloc's concerns. Meanwhile, it remains committed to its deals with the Libyan coastguard, which is fuelling its fair share of human trafficking and exploitation in Libya's detention centres and camps.


"As long as this political imbalance continues, the EU and the UN will continue to fuel refugee trajectories while conspiring to hide the people in Libya — the failed state of their own making."


The deal involves financing the Libyan coastguard and providing training, as well as equipment for surveillance and pushback — an initiative which at first was hailed as a measure that successfully curbed migration in the Mediterranean. In addition, it relieved European governments of criticism