The European Union wants to set up migrant “reception centres” in North Africa to process the thousands of Africans trying to reach Europe. This has been rejected by Libya, where people-smuggling networks once controlled by former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, are now able to operate freely, writes the BBC’s Farouk Chothia.
As he appealed to Nato not to launch air strikes to overthrow his regime, then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said: “Now listen, you people of Nato. You’re bombing a wall which stood in the way of African migration to Europe and in the way of al-Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You’re breaking it.”
Gaddafi was trying to exploit European fears about migration in the hope of clinging to power, but it did not work. He was killed by Nato-backed militias in October 2011 following a popular uprising against his 42-year rule.
As a result, Europe – especially Italy – lost a key partner in efforts to reduce migration from Africa.
“Not enough attention was paid to Libya after Gaddafi’s overthrow,” Tarek Megersi, a Libyan analyst with the UK-based European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, told the BBC.
“There is a lack of governance structures and smuggling groups have exploited this to the maximum,” Mr Megersi added.
Unlike Turkey which has stemmed the flow of migrants by agreeing to take back Syrians who reach the Greek islands in exchange for a huge financial package, Libya’s weak internationally recognised government has rejected a European Union proposal to set up “reception centres” for African migrants while European states consider their asylum applications.
‘We categorically reject camps for migrants,” Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq said, following talks with Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini in Tripoli last week.
”It is not allowed by Libyan law,” he added.
A further complication is the breakdown in law and order in Libya, where a host of rival militias are largely able to operate as they please, with some making huge amounts of money from the migrant trade.
Mr Megersi said migrants have rapidly changed the demographics of parts of Libya. The coastal city of Zawiya, which used to have a population of about 200,000, now has more than one million migrants living in it, and the surrounding area.
“They [Libyans] have the same fear as European states,” he added.
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