By Paul Ronzheimer and Giorgos Moutafis
BI: Mr. Prime Minister, Europe is concerned about a new influx of African refugees. How many people will risk the dangerous journey from Libya to Italy via the Mediterranean this year?
Fayez Al-Sarraj: “The numbers keep increasing, since the trafficking business is flourishing for criminal gangs. It is dramatic! Our estimation is that thousands of people want to begin their journey at the moment. The weather and the quiet sea will lead to a massive influx. We must finally do something to prevent more people from dying in the Mediterranean and to prevent the number of refugees in Europe from rising. Unfortunately, Europe has not helped us so far and has made empty promises. Our requests have not been fulfilled. If this doesn’t change, the result will be even more traffickers and even more refugees.”
BI: You met with the European heads of government in Rome. What are you requesting?
Sarraj: “We urgently need more qualified support when it comes to protecting and controlling the coasts. To achieve this aim, the Libyan coastguard must be better trained. We need satellites, an electronic monitoring system for the borders, and personal assistance. The international community must also contribute to stabilizing the country. Security gaps and the very unstable current political and economic situation in Libya provide criminal organisations with many opportunities for smuggling people from their home countries into Europe. Thousands are losing their lives in the attempt.”
BI: Human rights organisations accuse Libya of mistreating refugees in the country.
Sarraj: “Since there is currently a great political and economic crisis in Libya, I cannot deny that there are many human rights violations. We are asking Europe and the international community to help us improve the refugee camps. We do not accept the suppression of human rights. However, there are many criminal organisations that profit from trafficking.”
BI: You mentioned the unstable situation. As prime minister, you do not have control over the entire country, at all. Various militia groups claim parts of Libya for themselves. How can the borders be controlled, given this situation?
Sarraj: “You’re right, this is one of the biggest challenges we’re facing. There are economic problems, there is the illegal possession of weapons, and there are security gaps. This is why we need help so urgently.”
BI: Could it be, in the end, that only international troops can stabilize the situation and stop the traffickers?
Sarraj: “The international community has let Libya down for too long. This has led to many problems, such as security gaps and the spread of criminal organisations. Now the international community hopefully understands the mistakes it has made and wants to help us again. We hope that this help will also be implemented, and that it does not merely consist of talk and empty promises – as has been the case until now. But it’s not about troops on the ground. Deploying ground forces from other countries to Libya would be unacceptable to the Libyans. It’s impossible.”
BI: There are discussions about bringing people, who were saved in the Mediterranean, directly back to Libya. What do you think about this?
Sarraj: “That is out of the question! The vast majority of refugees taking off from Libya are not Libyans. Europe must therefore handle the repatriation of these people to their home countries. For this the European and international community will have to put pressure on Libya’s southern neighbouring countries. If this repatriation were actually to happen, people would rethink whether they wanted to go to Europe or not. It is also important to discuss what the efforts of the many rescue organisations off Libya’s coast have led to. Of course, many refugees know that these boats exist. They are their destination, because they can safely complete their journey to Europe once they have reached one of them. Since the boats are provided by Europe, Europe must also discuss this point.”
BI: Do you still have any kind of overview of who is currently fighting whom in Libya, at all?
Sarraj: “The illegal possession of weapons in Tripoli has made it possible for many armed groups to emerge over the past six years. We try to integrate the good groups into state institutions and fight the bad ones, who want to sabotage the reconstruction of the state. We try to avoid fighting by all means. However, the stubbornness of some of the people involved, and their attempts to destroy the state, force us to fight against them. In general, it has to be said that shootings and people being run over can happen anywhere. We are not an exception.”
BI: Your biggest opponent, General Haftar, is seeking power. He is already trying to collaborate with Russia …
Sarraj: “Mr. Khalifah Haftar has been elected commander of the armed forces by parliament. He has played an important role in fighting terrorism in Benghazi. As a consensus government, we have tried to contact him in order to build a unified military institution. We requested that nobody be excluded and that all military leaders unite in order to bring the country under a common political flag. The most important point is that the military institutions must be subordinate to the political leadership. Unfortunately, the military forces are refusing to comply with this – which is delaying Libya’s unification.”
BI: Are you afraid of an assassination attempt?
Sarraj: “Everybody who is trying to lead this country through these difficult times, or is trying to govern it, could become the victim of such an attempt. However, we are counting on people and their intelligence – and their awareness and desire for real reconciliation.”
BI: What went wrong after the 2001 revolution, such that Libya now faces such a dramatic situation, six years later?
Sarraj: “Several mistakes were made during the revolution. I mentioned earlier that the international community has let us down – which has also led to the current political divisions. The uncontrolled, illegal possession of weapons is also a major obstacle to our development. Our consensus government doesn’t have a magic wand for solving all problems. But it is also clear that the situation could be much worse.”