Libya’s foreign minister criticised a system meant to deter migrants from attempting to reach European shores, claiming that it fails to address the root of the problem and only serves the interests of EU states.
Her comments are the latest stab at EU policies that fund forces such as the Libyan coastguard, which intercepts migrant boats, brings them back to shore and detains those on board.
Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush spoke via video call at the Mediterranean Dialogues, a conference hosted by the Italian government, in a session titled “Dealing with Migration".
“Please do not push the problem in our lap and please do not point your fingers at Libya and portray us as a country which abuses and disrespects refugees,” she said.
“We are tired of beating around the bush, and all these superficial solutions being offered. It’s time to state the problem and face it instead of … keep repeating it again and again.”
The EU has supported Libya's coastguard, which regularly intercepts vessels carrying migrants across the Mediterranean.
Many migrants are then placed in detention facilities, held indefinitely in poor conditions or held for ransom in exchange for payoffs, migrants who made it out have said.
In her speech, Ms Mangoush did not directly address the abuse accusations.
Libya has become the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and who are hoping for a better life in Europe.
Each year, thousands of migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia attempt the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe on overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats.
More than 1,300 men, women and children have died so far in 2021 trying to cross the sea from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, the UN migration agency reported.
The EU has sent €455 million to Libya since 2015, largely channelled through UN agencies and aimed at beefing up Libya’s coastguard, reinforcing its southern border and improving conditions for migrants.
Libya has been at war for years, split between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. After years of UN-led talks, the country is set to hold national elections this month.
Ms Mangoush said that to address the root of the issue, what Libya needs is a better policing system at its southern borders to control the influx of migrants.
She said the solution of simply providing money to Libya would never be enough, calling past initiatives “just for the cause of serving the agenda of the EU and the perspective of the EU".