By Jorge Valero
(EurActiv) — An EU proposal to impose sanctions on smugglers that bring migrants from Africa was opposed by Russia and China, officials involved in the G20 talks told EURACTIV.
European Council President Donald Tusk circulated on Tuesday (4 July) among G20 members a document to back his proposal to impose UN sanctions on people smugglers.
The idea was discussed by government envoys over the last few days and found “good support”, according to an official involved in the negotiations.
But Russia and China opposed the EU proposal.
Speaking to reporters on Friday (7 June) before the G20 summit started, Tusk said that asset freezes and travel bans were “the very minimum that can be done at the global level” against the smugglers.
“Unfortunately, I have to say that today we do not have the full support even for this minimum. If we do not get it, it will be a sad proof of the hypocrisy of some of the G20 members,” he warned.
“Today it is very difficult to be optimistic,” he added. He asked the leaders to be “more cooperative” and “less cynical” in addressing the issue.
G20 leaders will discuss migration tomorrow.
According to Tusk’s document, and seen by EURACTIV, “the main smuggling routes and the hubs of smuggling activity are well known”.
Around 90% of migrants are sent to Europe from western Libya, especially around the town of Sabratha. Before reaching the coast, migrants are kept and moved along hubs such as Sabha and Kufrah.
The smuggling business generated in Libya €1.6bn in 2016. Part of this money has been used to finance terrorist organisations operating in the country, as links between human traffickers and terrorist groups have been reported.
Besides the sanctions, Tusk also proposed strengthening police and judicial cooperation among the countries in the region, including through Interpol and other law enforcement forums, “to pursue smugglers and traffickers in Libya and the sub-Saharan region”.
He proposed adding a paragraph to the G20 conclusions saying: “We commit to countering migrants smuggling and trafficking in human beings. In this regard we agree to pursue targeted UN sanctions against those involved in smuggling and trafficking in Libya”.
The EU also put special importance on supporting the countries of origin of migrants in order to stem the flow.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recalled the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa set up by the EU last year. According to the Commission figures, the fund has €2.8 billion at its disposal.
In 2017, more than 80,000 people arrived in Italy, most of them were economic migrants. Over 2,000 people died at sea this year, although NGOs and the UN estimate the figure is much higher for those who died crossing the desert trying to reach the Libyan coast.
The high number of arrivals forced the Italian government to request more support from European partners.