CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s foreign minister on Friday criticized a system of deterring migrants from reaching European shores that she argued fails to address the root of the problem and has so far only served the interest of EU states.
Her comments are the latest stab at EU policies that fund forces such as the Libyan coast guard, which intercepts migrant boats and brings them back onshore and detains them.
Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush spoke via video call at the Mediterranean dialogues, a conference hosted by the Italian government, in a session titled “Dealing with Migration.”
“Please do not push the problem in our lap and please do not point your fingers at Libya and portray us as a country which abuses and disrespects refugees,” she said. “We are tired of beating around the bush, and all these superficial solutions being offered, it’s time to state the problem and face it, instead of … keep repeating it again and again.”
The European Union, which has come under fire for its support of Libya’s domestic efforts to stem migrant crossings in the past, has supported the country’s coast guard, which regularly intercepts vessels carrying migrants. Many migrants are then placed in brutal detention facilities, held indefinitely in appalling conditions, or held for ransom in exchange for payoffs, according to migrants who have made it out.
The European Union sends funds to the detention centers indirectly through aid agencies.
In her speech, Mangoush did not directly address the abuse accusations.
Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe. Each year, thousands of migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia attempt the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe on overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats.
More than 1,300 men, women and children have died so far in 2021 trying to cross the Central Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, according to the U.N. migration agency.
The EU has sent 455 million euros to Libya since 2015, largely channeled through U.N. agencies and aimed at beefing up Libya’s coast guard, reinforcing its southern border and improving conditions for migrants.
Libya has been at war and split for years between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. After years of U.N.-led talks, the country is set to hold national elections later this month.
Mangoush said that what Libya needs is better policing system at its southern borders to control the influx of migrants, to address the root of the issue. She said the solution of simply providing money to Libya would never be enough, calling past initiatives “just for the cause of serving the agenda of the EU and the perspective of the EU.”
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