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European leaders look to stop flow of migrants

media Migrants on a wooden boat are rescued by German NGO Jugend Rettet ship "Juventa" crew in the Mediterranean sea off Libya coast on June 18, 2017. ©REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and met in Paris with counterparts from Chad, Niger and Libya Monday in a bid to find ways to curb migration across the Mediterranean.

Though Monday’s summit convened by French President Emmanuel Macron-- is far from the first meeting held on the issue, it was significant in that the attendees were heads of state.

Migrant summit

Participants included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the prime ministers of Italy and Spain, the EU foreign policy chief, the presidents of Niger and Chad and Fayez Serraj-- the leader of Libya's internationally-backed government.

Ahead of the meeting, Macron said he was eager to discuss the establishment of Libyan hot spots, places to process asylum seekers directly in Africa. Mattia Toaldo, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations isn't sure the hot spots will work.

“There are a lot of doubts over whether this can be done in Africa, especially in Libya,” he said. “For now, Italy is the only one of those countries with an embassy in Libya there isn’t even a UN headquarters in Libya.”

Logistics isn’t the only issue.

“There are serious human rights violations going on in Libya,” he said. “Moreover, Libya doesn’t even have the word asylum in its legislation.”

Hot spots might be both hard to implement and questionable in terms of human rights, but the pressure to find a solution is on for European leaders.

“There are upcoming elections in Austria and Germany that will take place within the next six weeks,” Toaldo says. “In Italy, they’ll be an election in the next six months. The priority of policy makers from these countries is to stop the flow of migrants altogether, no matter what the cost. International law and human rights violations come after that.”

European response

Some European politicians have applauded the fact that, this summer, there has been a drop in the number of people crossing the Mediterranean.

However, reports surfaced last week that armed groups that are preventing people from leaving Libya by stopping boats and holding people in detention centres. Moreover, these groups might be getting European money or favours.

“There were very credible reports that the reason the flow has decreased is because Italy is cutting deals with militias in places where migrants set off from,” says Giulia Laganà, a senior EU migration and asylum analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute.

“Italy also has an official naval mission in Libyan waters which is assisting the UN-backed official Libyan government to stop the flow of people across the Mediterranean. And in both cases-- Italy could be liable to legal action in the European court of human rights and elsewhere.”

“Politicians are aware of this, but, in their urgency to stop the flow before the elections, they might be cutting a few corners in terms of human rights,” she says.

The crux of the matter is that people are fleeing Libya because of the conditions there. A recent report by British charity Oxfam found that 84% of migrants and refugees who passed through Libya suffered inhuman or degrading treatment, violence or torture.

“As oil revenues have fallen, a large part of the Libyan economy has basically converted to exploiting the migrants to the biggest degree possible  wringing as much money out of them as possible,” Langanà say. “And that’s done through extreme violence, which amounts to torture in many cases.”

“The fact that the flow of people has stopped doesn’t mean that these people aren’t being tortured anymore,” she says. “It means they are being held there indefinitely in those detention centres. They have no means of escaping.”

She says the people trying to leave Libya are desperate.

“What a lot of people, including policy makers, forget is that most of the migrants currently fleeing Libya weren’t originally planning to go to Europe,” she says. “Only about 30% were. The rest found themselves in Libya in such horrendous conditions that they felt forced to get on boats to Europe just to seek safety.”

Yet, despite these pressing concerns from all sides- people in Libya desperate for safety, European leaders hoping to stop them from coming and armed groups eager to profit from the situation the problem is too complex for a solution to come out of a one-day summit.

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