By Sarantis Michalopoulos
(EurActiv) — EU leaders will discuss the critical situation in Libya and potential waves of immigrants trying to reach Europe on 18 April, EurActiv Greece has been informed.
The discussion will take place following the regular Foreign Affairs Council meeting and ahead of Foreign Affairs Council Defence on 19 April, in Luxembourg.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday (24 March) that some 800,000 migrants are in Libya hoping to cross to Europe.
Le Drian told Europe 1 radio that “hundreds of thousands” of migrants were in Libya, having fled conflict and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere, adding that the figure of 800,000 was “about right”.
In an interview with EurActiv in December, Greece’s Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Nikos Xydakis, noted that new routes and new compositions [in migration flows] were found.
“The people who now come from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands are from the Maghreb. Let me give you an example. In August , we had 40-50 Moroccans, and in November, their number was over 7,000.”
“The route we have identified is the following: Moroccans and Algerians can travel without a visa from Maghreb countries, with a very cheap ticket with Turkish Airlines, directly to Constantinople [Istanbul], and then they easily reach the coast and go to the other side [Greece],” Xydakis said.
But the presence of NATO in the Aegean Sea combined with a possible “isolation” in Greece due to the closed borders on the north might have discouraged migrants and re-directed the routes.
Focus on Libya
EurActiv was told that at the margins of the European Council on 17-18 March EU leaders discussed growing concerns over possible new migrant flows from Libya.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and his EU counterparts over a threat of massive migration flows through the Libya-Italy route.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs told EurActiv that in April, Foreign and Defence Ministers would have an exchange of views on the situation in Libya. The objective will be to bring together foreign affairs ministers with their counterparts in defence in order to effectively address the new challenging situation.
“The discussion will focus on the EU support of an inclusive government in all sectors, from humanitarian to migratory one, including security related aspects. The discussion will take place on 18 April, following the regular Foreign Affairs Council meeting and ahead of Foreign Affairs Council Defence on 19 April, in Luxembourg,” the spokesperson stressed.
EurActiv understands that EU leaders among others will discuss potential measures on the Libyan coasts and territorial waters.
Italy’s leader Matteo Renzi has been sceptical over EU’s stance on migration.
He recently reiterated the need to address the refuge crisis by activating an EU investment plan for sub-Saharan Africa, something that Paris could possibly oppose as it wants to keep its traditional privileged relations in the region.
Earlier this year, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán was quoted as saying that 50 million Nigerians were preparing to come to Italy via Libya, when the weather improves. Nigeria has a population of 180 million and is considered a “safe country”. Contacted by EurActiv, Frontex said that it was “not aware of such a prognosis”.
An EU diplomat told EurActiv that Italy had been pushing on a diplomatic level for a comprehensive action plan which wouldn’t include just Turkey but other countries as well.
“For example Albania and Libya might be alternative immigration routes and should be monitored and included in a comprehensive action plan,” the EU diplomat said.
After the Western Balkan route to Europe was officially closed, Italy held joint military patrols with Albania at the Greek border. Rome feared that refugees might seek to reach Italy through Montenegro or Albania via the Adriatic Sea.
In late February Albanian premier Edi Rama stressed that Tirana would not become a new route for migrants.
“Because we have neither the conditions nor the strength nor the enthusiasm to save the world while others close their borders.”
“Up until now there are no indications that there is a flow of migrants through the Adriatic but it stands to reason that with the closure of the Balkan route another route may open,” Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.
According to the same source, Rome along with Athens have been trying to convince their EU partners that an overall approach is needed as regards to the immigration crisis.
“Dublin regulation, asylum policy, re-admission agreements all should be part of an EU-wide immigration strategy […] that’s the only way.