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.


Kabul Museum shines light on nation’s heritage

Visitors are visibly impressed by one of the ancient relics on display in Kabul Museum on Saturday. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
Updated 17 July 2019
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Kabul Museum shines light on nation’s heritage

  • The damaged museum bears hallmarks of country’s four decades of conflict

KABUL: An Afghan museum looted and bombed during decades of conflict is battling on to shine a light on the country’s rich cultural heritage. Despite losing over 70 percent of its once vast collection of more than 100,000 artifacts, the Kabul Museum continues to proudly display its surviving treasures of the past and change negative perceptions of the country on a global stage.
Hundreds of items are currently on display and an exhibition has been touring the world since 2006.
But many first-time visitors to the museum, located on the Afghan capital’s southern fringes, are shocked at discovering how much remains on show.
Although lacking some of the state-of-the-art exhibition spaces found in many big-city museums, Kabul’s displays can still impress.
Students on a trip to the museum were at first skeptical, but quickly realized the wealth of history unfolding before their eyes. The youths were born and raised during the latest chapter of the war-torn country which for some of them began with the US-led ousting of the ruling Taliban in 2001.
They hardly knew how rich the museum was before it became a victim of the ferocious civil war in the 1990s that razed various neighborhoods in the capital to the ground and led to the looting and destruction of a large proportion of the museum’s treasures.
But they were quickly mesmerized by a massive Islamic-era stone bowl with delicate Arabic calligraphy, the torso and heads of Buddha sculptures, and a large, Afghan-made, 18th century leather gunpowder-measuring container. These were just some of the items highlighting the history of Afghanistan with its various civilizations and faiths.
“I came to know what sort of rich culture and civilization we have had here (in Afghanistan). I did not know about this before my visit,” student Mohammad Ehsan, 17, told Arab News.
His classmate, Aminullah, said that on arrival it “did not seem like a proper museum” but then admitted, “I am happy we came, saw and learnt about our rich culture and history. It is important what we have it (the Kabul Museum) and we learnt through our visit what a shining history we have,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Despite decades of war and losing over 70 percent of collection Kabul exhibition continues to change world perceptions.

Unfortunately, the image of Afghanistan seen by many foreigners is one of a country ravaged by conflict. However, museum officials are trying to change perceptions. They point to relics dating back to prehistoric times and those from ancient civilizations and empires that have ruled the country or tried to conquer it. Excavations have uncovered ivories from India, mirrors from China, and glassware from the Roman Empire as well as stucco heads and hordes of coins.
Now, the museum bears all of the hallmarks of Afghanistan’s past four decades of conflict. It was on the frontline of warring sides in the 1990s when many of its relics were stolen, smuggled abroad or sold by mafia gangs to foreign countries. Part of the museum building and some of its exhibits were badly damaged in an air strike and by shelling.
And despite the large amount of foreign aid that has poured into the country since the Taliban’s ouster, the museum still has no ventilation, temperature controls to protect displays, or proper security.
During their last year in power, the Taliban blew up ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan, and began vandalizing hundreds of museum statues which had survived plunder and destruction before the group swept to power in 1996. One of the most famous surviving pieces currently in Kabul Museum is the Rabatak inscription of King Kanishka.
Mohammad Yahya Mohebzada, deputy head of Kabul Museum, told Arab News that prior to the Afghan civil war, museum staff had suggested moving the precious Tilla Tepe gold and jewelry collection along with other valuable items to a safe area in the presidential palace for protection.
These collections and relics from Begram, Ai-Khanoum, and Tepe Fullol, have been on travelling exhibition since 2006 in France, the US, Japan, Canada, Germany and Britain among other countries.
“The exhibition means a lot for us. It is proof to the outside world that Afghanistan was home to various civilizations, that we have a long history and these relics are our cultural heritage,” said Mohebzada, who has worked in the museum for 35 years.
“It helps to change perceptions overseas of Afghanistan having no culture or history and having nothing but war. We can also generate money for the museum through the exhibitions, but their spiritual importance is of more value for us.”
Japan and Britain are among a number of countries that have repatriated scores of Afghan relics smuggled abroad. Foreign experts are also putting together some of the pieces of Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban. There are now 720 items on display at Kabul Museum and although some are damaged, they represent the historical resilience of the country.