EU seeks curb for Libya migrant flows

A child walks in the migrant and refugee camp of Liniere in Grande-Synthe. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2017
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EU seeks curb for Libya migrant flows

BRUSSELS: After blocking the main migrant route from the Middle East, the EU will this week seek ways to check a feared spring surge from Libya and North Africa across the Mediterranean.
The European Union lacks a reliable partner in chaotic Libya, the launchpad for almost all migrant crossings over the central Mediterranean, while some African governments along the trail north have been reluctant to cooperate, EU sources and experts said.
The European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, is due to unveil new proposals to tackle the issue on Wednesday, before ministers address it at talks in Malta on Thursday and Friday.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat — whose country is using its six-month presidency of the EU to highlight a crisis that has badly affected the island — warned two weeks ago that the EU should meet soon with Libyan authorities to try to avert the risk of an “unprecedented” migrant flow in the spring.
Trafficking on the central Mediterranean route is picking up sharply with more than 180,000 migrants landing in Italy last year, compared with a previous annual record of 170,100 in 2014.
Muscat wants a Libya deal that copies aspects of a controversial EU aid-for-cooperation deal with Turkey that has sharply slowed the number of Syrian and other asylum seekers landing in Greece.
But that will be tough, as the UN-backed Libyan unity government is locked in a power struggle with a rival administration in eastern Libya as it seeks to end years of lawlessness following the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi.
Meanwhile the EU’s naval operation “Sophia,” launched in 2015 to crack down on smugglers on the high seas, has no green light to intervene in Libyan waters.
“The operation is only partly useful because we can’t really act against the smugglers,” a European diplomat said. “They abandon people on rickety boats before the international waters and then let them drift.”
Now, Malta has floated the idea of having the EU step up its months-old program to train and equip Libya’s coast guard to form a “line of protection” nearer the embarcation points, according to a proposal seen by AFP.
The Libyan coast guard would then return the migrants to shore where they would be taken into the EU in the right conditions under international law.
“The problem is that you have no reliable partner on the Libyan side,” Stefan Lehne, an analyst with the think tank Carnegie Europe, told AFP.
The lack of a reliable interlocutor will likely force the EU to focus to try to work with countries through which migrants travel north, EU sources said.
Most of the migrants coming from Africa are viewed by the EU as economic migrants who should be deported to their original countries, rather than refugees like those fleeing war in Syria.
The EU’s successful cooperation on returns with Niger, a transit country, and the International Organization for Migration has led to calls for Brussels to strike similar deals with Mali, Chad, Nigeria and Sudan.
The EU already has deals with Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Ethiopia to stop people leaving for Europe in the first place, sealed at a summit in Malta in 2015.
But despite European pressure, the African countries are balking at cooperation with Europe over returns.
Lehne said the EU approach fails to recognize the fact that “migration is a positive thing” for African countries which receive remittances from workers abroad and get “rid of people who could politically destabilize the country.”
Yves Pascouau, director of the European Policy Center, said the EU should propose “legal channels of migration” in return for cooperation but this is unlikely given rising populist opposition to migration in Europe.


North Korea’s Kim meets China’s Xi, says awaiting US actions

Updated 30 min 23 sec ago
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North Korea’s Kim meets China’s Xi, says awaiting US actions

  • The summit comes as both Xi and Kim are locked in separate disputes with the United States — Xi over trade and Kim over his nuclear weapons
  • Chinese and North Korea media have said Xi would stay in Pyongyang for two days

BEIJING: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, meeting in Pyongyang with Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Thursday that his country is waiting for a desired response in stalled nuclear talks with the United States.

“North Korea would like to remain patient, but it hopes the relevant party will meet halfway with North Korea to explore resolution plans that accommodate each other’s reasonable concerns,” he said, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi’s trip to North Korea, the first by a Chinese president in 14 years, raises the possibility that China could help break a months-long impasse in talks between the US and North Korea over the North’s nuclear weapons.

Describing the issue as “highly complex and sensitive,” Xi said his government is willing to play a constructive role in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“The international community expects the US and North Korea to continue to talk and achieve results,” he said, according to CCTV.

The summit comes as both countries are locked in separate disputes with the United States — China over trade and North Korea over its nuclear weapons.

With Xi due to meet President Donald Trump next week in Japan, analysts say Kim may ask the Chinese leader to pass on a message that could revive the talks with the US

Xi’s two-day state visit to North Korea, announced just three days ago, began with the synchronized pomp of all major events in the country.

About 10,000 cheering people and a 21-gun salute greeted Xi and senior Chinese officials at an arrival ceremony at Pyongyang’s airport.

The CCTV evening news showed Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan waving to the crowd after emerging from their Air China plane, then being greeted by Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju before receiving flowers and watching goose-stepping troops march by.

The crowd stood in tight formations, waving flowers and chanting slogans to welcome Xi. Other people lined the roads and cheered from overpasses as Xi’s motorcade traveled to central Pyongyang, where he joined Kim in an open-top vehicle.

Standing in the car, they waved to crowds as they rode to the square where the embalmed bodies of Kim’s grandfather and father, the first two leaders of North Korea, lie in state.

As of Thursday evening, North Korean media had yet to report on Xi’s arrival.

Nuclear talks between the US and North Korea broke down after a second summit between Kim and Trump in February in Vietnam ended in failure.

A series of North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests in 2016 and 2017 alarmed the US, its Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, and even China. Last year, Kim turned to diplomacy, including his first meeting with Trump in Singapore.

The talks with the US have reached an impasse over a fundamental difference in approach.

The US is demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons entirely before international sanctions are lifted. North Korea is seeking a step-by-step approach in which moves toward denuclearization are matched by concessions from the US, notably a relaxation of the sanctions.

“Over more than a year, the North Korean side has taken many positive measures to avoid escalation of the situation and manage and control the peninsular situation, but it hasn’t received an active response from the relevant party,” Kim told Xi on Thursday, according to CCTV.

Xi is expected to endorse North Korea’s calls for an incremental disarmament process.

A commentary in China’s official Xinhua news agency said China could play a unique role in breaking the cycle of mistrust between North Korea and the U.S, but that both sides “need to have reasonable expectations and refrain from imposing unilateral and unrealistic demands.”

A former North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016 said he thinks Kim wants to give Xi a message to deliver to Trump when the two meet at the upcoming G-20 summit in Japan.

Thae Yong Ho said Kim may offer to abandon some of his nuclear facilities in a bid to set up a third summit with the US president. But he cautioned that such a move would be only to buy time and not to denuclearize fully, as the US is demanding.

“The main purpose for the Kim Jong Un regime in negotiating is to keep North Korea as a new nuclear state in this region, there is no doubt about that,” he said at a news conference in Tokyo, where he is promoting the Japanese translation of his book, “Password From the Third Floor,” an inside look at North Korean diplomacy and the Kim regime.

China is North Korea’s most important foreign partner, though their relations grew somewhat rocky as Kim’s efforts to build his country’s nuclear weapons capabilities threatened regional stability.

Kim met Xi four times in China as the talks with both the US and South Korea got underway. A banner at the airport welcome ceremony read, “Long Live with Unbreakable Friendship and Unity Formed by Blood.”

The nations fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War against the United States, South Korea and their allies. China welcomed Kim’s announcement last year that he was shifting the country’s focus from nuclear weapons to economic development.