By Andrew Rettman
EU states aim to help Libya deport would-be migrants back home, and to keep open “all available options” on its response to Russia’s actions in Syria.
The Libya plan was mentioned in draft conclusions for the EU summit to take place in Brussels on Thursday (15 December).
“Initiatives need to be taken to offer assisted voluntary return opportunities to migrants stranded in Libya and curtail dangerous journeys”, the draft text, seen by EUobserver, said.
It added that the EU’s naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea, operation Sophia, should “enhance support” for the Libyan coastguard to stop people from making crossings to Italy.
It also said that the EU wanted to expand the group of five African states – Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Ethiopia, and Mali – covered by so-called migration compacts.
The deals envisage more financial aid for countries that stop people from leaving for Europe, and threats to cut off assistance, as well as trade opportunities, if they do not.
The draft summit conclusions said that “in the light” of “progress” achieved with the group-of-five “additional compacts … could be envisaged”.
They also reiterated the EU’s “commitment to the EU-Turkey statement”, a deal under which Turkey stops migrants going to Greece, despite concerns about human rights abuses by the Turkish regime
The emphasis on stemming the flow of migrants comes amid a report by the UN, published on Tuesday, that detailed the “horrific” conditions for the 38,000 would-be asylum seekers estimated to be stuck in Libya.
The UN report said about half of them are from war-torn Syria, posing questions on the viability of the EU return “initiatives”, and that the real figure of stranded migrants was probably “much higher”
“These are people who, for a range of reasons, feel compelled to leave their own countries and embark on these desperate and precarious journeys. The report lays bare the suffering endured by these migrants who have experienced unimaginable abuse”, the UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said.
The report said most people are being held in 24 government-run detention centres, which are “overcrowded, with insufficient food and clean water.”
It added that “with no access to toilets, detainees are often forced to defecate and urinate in their cells. Malnutrition, acute diarrhoea, respiratory problems and infectious diseases, including scabies, and chickenpox, are common”.
It said that thousands others are being held in “connection houses” run by paramilitary groups and human trafficking gangs, which work together with corrupt Libyan officials to put them on boats to the EU.
“People smuggled or trafficked into Libya face torture, forced labour and sexual exploitation along the route, and many also while held in arbitrary detention”, Martin Kobler, the UN’s special envoy to Libya said.
Speaking earlier this month, rear admiral Enrico Credendino, who is in charge of the EU’s operation Sophia, said the migrant smuggling trade is worth $300 million a year and that jihadist groups, such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, are taking a share of the income.
He also said the “legal and political pre-conditions have not been met” for closer EU cooperation with Libya due to splits and infighting among Libyan government factions.
Preparations for the EU summit are being made amid the Syrian regime’s conquest, with Russian air support, of rebel-held enclaves in the city of Aleppo.
The fall of Aleppo could prompt tens of thousands more Syrians to try to flee to Europe via Turkey.
The brutality of the Syrian-Russian assault, which massacred thousands of civilians, has seen the EU impose extra sanctions on Syria and to speak of extra measures on Russia.
The draft summit conclusions blamed Syria and Russia for “deliberate targeting of civilians and hospitals”.
They said individuals “must be held accountable” for war crimes and said the EU “is considering all available options” – meaning new blacklists – as events unfold.
Andrew Rettman – Foreign Editor who has been writing on foreign affairs for EUobserver since 2005. He is Polish and has a degree in English literature from Oxford University. He also contributes to The Guardian, The Telegraph and to Intelligence Online.