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

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.


Indonesia president may delay cabinet announcement to Wednesday

Updated 1 min 43 sec ago

Indonesia president may delay cabinet announcement to Wednesday

  • Mahfud told reporters he was asked by the president if he was ready to serve, but was not told what post he could be given
  • Some media reports have suggested Prabowo Subianto could serve as defense minister
JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo may delay announcing his cabinet until Wednesday morning, according to Mahfud MD, a former head of the Constitutional Court, who said he was interviewed for a post at the palace on Monday.

Mahfud told reporters he was asked by the president if he was ready to serve, but was not told what post he could be given.

“On Wednesday, we are all invited to be announced to all of you, we were called one by one today,” Mahfud told Kompas TV at the presidential palace, adding that a swearing in was scheduled at 9 a.m. (0200 GMT) Wednesday.

He said he discussed with Widodo topics ranging from politics to law enforcement, corruption, human rights and religion.

On Sunday, Widodo said he planned to introduce ministers in his cabinet for a second term on Monday morning. No official announcement has been made on the cabinet.

Several other potential candidates visited the palace on Monday morning, including Nadiem Makarim, the chief executive of Indonesian ride-hailing and payments firm Gojek, who has been linked in the media as a possible post in a new digital economy ministry or in education.

“I have received a big honor to be able to join the cabinet of the president,” Makarim told reporters at the presidential palace. He also said he has resigned from Gojek.

Makarim said his specific role would be announced by the president later in the week. Gojek, which is valued at $10 billion, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on who would succeed Makarim.

Widodo’s election campaign manager Erick Thohir, who is chairman of media business Mahaka Media, was also at the palace. Shares of Mahaka Media soared 20 percent on Monday on expectations that Thohir, a former chairman of Italian football club Inter Milan, joining the cabinet.

Widodo has previously said that respected finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati would retain a position in the cabinet, but gave no further details.

The president has also been meeting with opposition leaders and some media reports have suggested Prabowo Subianto, who was the sole challenger in April’s bitterly fought presidential poll, could serve as defense minister.