Libya's Sarraj bargains for more money to help EU on migration – Reuters

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By Gabriela Baczynska
| BRUSSELS

BRUSSELS The head of the U.N.-backed Libyan government told top European Union officials on Thursday the bloc must provide more money to secure Tripoli’s help in curbing the flow of African migrants to Europe.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj was in Brussels on the eve of an EU leaders’ meeting in Malta where they were due to throw political weight behind new efforts to curtail the arrival of refugees and immigrants from Africa, through Libya to Italy.

The bloc is stepping up the training of Tripoli’s coast guard and offering more money and aid to Libya and other African countries to seal their borders so migrants seeking better lives in Europe do not get through.

But Sarraj, in joint statements with European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair the EU summit in Malta on Friday, said this was not enough.

“We hope that the EU mechanisms to help Libya will be more practical. We are not going to mention the amount of money that are dedicated to Libya for this help because they are very humble, very small amounts,” he said.

The EU has not given a figure for aid to Libya, but it is expected to be only a fraction of the 6 billion euros ($6.5 bln) it pledged last year to Turkey in a deal that slashed arrivals of refugees and migrants from the Middle East to Greece.

The deadly route across the Mediterranean is now the main gateway to Europe, with some 181,000 arrivals in 2016. It is run by smugglers who operate with impunity in Libya, which slid into chaos after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

But getting a migration deal with Libya is difficult.

Sarraj’s government is struggling to establish control in Tripoli and beyond and is contested by various factions, including by the powerful warlord Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya, who is increasingly being courted by Russia.

“Europe has proven it is able to close down irregular routes of migration,” Tusk said, referring to its deal with Turkey.

“Now it is time to close down the route from Libya to Italy … It is within our reach. What we need is the full determination to do that,” Tusk said.

HUMANITARIAN CONCERNS

Apart from the extremely poor security situation, migrants and refugees in Libya face dire humanitarian conditions.

A U.N. report last year said they suffer from arbitrary detention, forced labour, rape and torture. A German report last week cited “concentration-camp-like conditions”.

Global aid agency Oxfam criticized the bloc’s push on Libya on Thursday, saying it amounted to “further abandoning the rights of migrants, including refugees.”

“Plans to cooperate more closely with Libya are a deliberate outsourcing of migration control to the conflict-riven country where migrants are at great risk of abuse and even death,” it said in a statement.

“European leaders are throwing money at authorities in war-torn Libya without the necessary checks and balances,” it said.

The bloc is looking at whether it can give funding to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to improve conditions for refugees and migrants in the camps in Libya.

But UNHCR has warned there is a limit of what aid groups can do on the ground, saying they now have any access to only 15 out of 34 known detention centers. ($1 = 0.9246 euros)

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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