The EU and some big international organizations are becoming more hopeful about the situation of migrants in Libya.
Since the summer the situation in Libya has changed significantly, a senior EU official said, citing a 25% decrease of arrivals at Italian shores and fewer entries from the Libyan Southern border.
The EU policy in Libya has started bearing fruits, he added, following months Brussels and Rome teamed to dry up the Central-Mediterranean route.
Following the adoption of the EU strategy for Libya in December 2016, the Union disbursed €19 million in April to projects co-run with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, which are working on the field, and is giving any political backing to Italy which is leading the contacts with the Libyan authorities.
Saving lives at sea, protecting migrants in Libya, convincing those willing to return home, and supporting hosting communities, are the core pillars of the strategy that now will be further refocused to incorporate the “last element of the puzzle” – the resettlement.
The European Commission has invited member states to pledge to take in 50 000 migrants by the end of the month from Libya, but also from Turkey, Jordan, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. The scheme is voluntary, however an EU source said already more than 15 countries informed the Commission they are willing to participate in the next stage – giving legal passage to Europe to the refugees in need of protection.
While the European Commission is eager to show member states it has found a working approach to the migrant crisis, the international organizations are not that optimistic.
We may see more displaced people in Libya before the process gets under control, a senior representative warned.
The number of people coming to and leaving from Libya will be significant for the foreseeable years. According to the IOM data currently there are more than 348 370 internally displaced people in Libya.
Over 43 000 are registered outside of the detention centers but it is believed they are just a fraction of the people that are in need of some form of protection or assistance. Registered migrants are receiving assistance in so called community development centers – open facilities based in the municipalities willing to accept them. According to the aid organizations these migrants generally feel safer and are less likely to undertake the dangerous sea crossing to Europe.
Organizations like UNHCR and IOM are working also in the detention centers run by Libyan authorities and militias. But this job is daring and the conditions for migrants are dreadful and dangerous. The authorities are giving access to aid workers only to people from seven nationalities – Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians, Eritreans, Somalis and Sudanese, while denying any chance to the rest. 769 people have been released from detention camps since the begging of the year.
Now some big humanitarian organizations are advocating in the EU for the establishment of transitional centers that might take care of more people in need. They consider migrants living outside of camps or not registered in greater danger of being abused or maltreated.
These transitional centers would be also of an open type and would allow migrants to meet aid workers regularly. Providing shelter, food, medical help and setting up of return trips home will be also a part of transitional centers activities.
Voluntary returns are significant part of the EU strategy for Libya. Together with its partner IOM, the EU has aimed for 10 000 returns of migrants from Libya in 2017, a figure that has been surpassed already. An international organisation representative said the number of migrants returned from Libya will reach 13 000 to 15 000 by the end of the year compared to only 2600 flown in 2016. Official IOM data show people from 27 countries have already returned home safely. More spontaneous returns have also been reported.
The representative who is directly involved in various activities in Libya warned against over-optimistic expectations, saying the international organisations still do not have access to big parts of the territory.
He cautioned against focusing on resettlement, saying it can be only one of the solutions of the migrant crisis. Given the security situation and the instability of the processes in Libya, international organisations advice thorough advance preparation. So far, only Italy and Canada are taking refugees directly from Libya; and France, Canada and Switzerland are evacuating refugees to Niger.
The EU leaders praised the efforts of the Commission and its partners, saying at their meeting last week (October 19-20, 2917) there is “a real chance of closing the Central Mediterranean route”. They agree to help the European Commission with financial contributions to the Trust Fund for Africa – a voluntary financial instrument, designed to stem illegal migration. The bulk of the fresh money is promised to go to North African countries, which are on the last line before the European shores.