EU leaders discuss how to handle Libya migrants
British Prime Minister David Cameron was hosting a meeting with leaders from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Malta and Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, his spokeswoman said.
Libya descended into chaos after longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi was ousted and later killed in 2011, leading to a massive increase in the number of migrants trying to reach Europe from the North African nation.
Around 330,000 have come to Italy via Libya since the start of 2014 while more than a million have reached Europe, landing in Greece via Turkey.
A new unity government in Libya backed by the United Nations said on Saturday that it was taking office but it is struggling for political legitimacy and still has no fixed base, with rebel militias controlling the capital Tripoli.
Islamic State (IS) jihadists have also gained ground in Libya since Kadhafi was overthrown after international military intervention led by Britain and France, and backed by NATO.
“This will be looking at what we can be doing on the central Mediterranean route, what’s our plan for engaging with the Libyan government and Prime Minister (Fayez) Sarraj so we can be doing more together on this,” Cameron’s spokeswoman told reporters before the meeting.
She said Cameron believed “we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball and just focus on the eastern Mediterranean route, we should be looking at other routes too.”
Cameron also wants the EU operation in the central Mediterranean to be extended into Libya’s territorial waters to try to send traffickers’ ships back to the troubled country, British officials said.
Currently, the EU operation is confined to international waters and requires an invitation from an accepted Libyan government before it can move closer to shore.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy highlighted the instability of the political situation in Libya.
“There is a government but it does not yet have the support of parliament. Libya is a country where Daesh (another term for IS) has a presence, it’s also a country used by mafias for people trafficking,” he said.
Cameron suffered a major embarrassment this month when US President Barack Obama accused him of becoming “distracted” and failing to focus on Libya following Kadhafi’s ouster, also criticising the role of then French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
“When I go back and I ask myself what went wrong,” Obama told The Atlantic magazine, “there’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up.”
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