By Lauren Distler
On 3 February, EU leaders met in Malta for a summit aimed at reducing irregular migration through the Central Mediterranean route. In 2016 there were over 181,000 attempts to enter Europe after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. More than 4,500 people drowned on the journey last year.
The Malta Declaration, unanimously approved by EU leaders on 3 February, seeks to curb migration by stabilising Libya and strengthening the country’s ability to control its own borders.
The declaration includes plans to
- train and equip the Libyan coastguard
- increase efforts to disrupt the human smuggling business
- aid economic development in Libya, particularly in coastal areas and along migration routes
- improve the capacity and condition of Libyan migrant reception facilities
- step up support for voluntary return programmes through the International Organization for Migration and
- work with Libya and its neighbours to reduce pressure on Libya’s land borders.
In the lead-up to the Malta summit, the Italian government and Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord signed a Memorandum of Understanding, with the objective of helping African countries “control their external borders and to stop departures", according to Italy's foreign minister Angelino Alfano. The European Commission expressed support for the agreement, and pledged to mobilise an additional €200 million (£173 million) for the North Africa window of the Trust Fund for Africa to support the projects outlined in the Memorandum and the Malta Declaration.
The Declaration has been criticised by some organisations, which accuse the EU of misrepresenting the safety and stability of Libya. The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a statement that "Libya is not a safe place and blocking people in the country or returning them to Libya makes a mockery of the EU's so-called fundamental values of human dignity and rule of law”. There is also scepticism about how effective the EU programme will be in curbing migration, as the UN-backed government of Libya is only in control of a portion of the state’s territory.