EU migration plan stumbles as Libya says no to processing centre

Italy also said it would continue to block boats rescuing migrants from shipwrecks from docking at its ports.

A rescue worker from the Proactiva Open Arms Spanish NGO helps a migrant, rescued off the Libyan coast, on Tuesday July 17, 2018. Proactiva Open Arms said it found one woman alive Tuesday and another dead, along with the body of a toddler, amid the drifting remains of a destroyed migrant boat some 80 nautical miles from the Libyan coast. (Proactiva Open Arms via AP)
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The European Union's migrant strategy suffered a major new setback with Italy refusing to freely accept people rescued at sea and Libya spurning a proposal for asylum processing centres.

The salvoes follow a fractious EU summit in June which agreed to set up "disembarkation platforms" outside the bloc to process migrants after Italy's new populist government said it was closing its ports.

"Italy does not want to be the only country where migrants saved at sea by its own naval units disembark," Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said in a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

The Italian position and its implications were discussed at a meeting on Friday by member states in Brussels where diplomats said countries agreed to a "strategic review" of the EU's own naval operations.

Italy commands the European military operation Sophia launched in June 2015 following a series of deadly shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

"Operation Sophia is maintained," an EU diplomat involved in the talks told AFP on Friday.

"The aim remains to reach a consensus on future action within a European framework and in an orderly process," the source added.


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A Spanish rescue vessel carrying two dead bodies and a survivor from a migrant boat wreck has docked in a Mallorca port after a four-day journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

The aid group Proactiva Open Arms had found the bodies of a small boy and a woman on Tuesday and accused Libya's coast guards of abandoning them after intercepting dozens of Europe-bound migrants.

The rescuers had refused to dock in Italy saying they didn't trust how Italian authorities would handle an investigation into the wreckage.

The survivor was transferred to a hospital for trauma treatment, Spanish authorities said Saturday. The woman, identified only as "Josefa," told a journalist on board the rescue vessel that the migrants had been at sea for two days and two nights.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj meanwhile rejected the EU proposal for asylum processing centres in his country, saying: "We are strictly against Europe officially placing illegal migrants who are no longer wanted in the EU in our country."

Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia were also approached by the EU but have already refused to host such centres.

Police check a migrant disembarked from Frontex ship "Protector" at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy, in the early hours of Monday, July 16, 2018. Migrants aboard two border patrol ships have disembarked in a Sicilian port after a half-dozen European countries promised to take some of them in rather than have Italy process their asylum claims alone.(Francesco Ruta/ANSA via AP)
Police check a migrant disembarked from Frontex ship "Protector" at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy. ANSA via AP

"We also won't agree on any deals with EU money about taking in more illegal migrants," the Libyan premier told Germany's Bild newspaper.

Sarraj said European leaders should instead put pressure on migrants' origin countries to stop them embarking on their journey in the first place.

Most of the migrants are from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has written to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying his country would no longer take in migrants plucked from the Mediterranean until other member states accepted some of them.

Over the last decade, the Italian coastguard has coordinated the rescue of hundreds of thousands of migrants off the coast of Libya, in many cases pulling them from the water themselves in treacherous conditions.

But as of June, they have been ordered to transfer calls for help and reports of boats in distress to the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Juncker wrote back to Conte saying "these ad hoc solutions will not be feasible in the long term," according to a copy of a letter seen by AFP.

But Juncker agreed to try and identify nations that would shelter rescued migrants until a definitive framework was agreed upon as to who would take charge of them.

June was the deadliest month in the Mediterranean in recent years with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reporting some 564 deaths or disappearances, despite the fact that overall departures have dropped sharply since the summer of 2017.

Under a controversial deal with the EU, Libyan coastguards intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.

But the UN has slammed the policy as "inhuman", noting that the migrants are simply brought back to "horrific" detention centres in Libya.

The European Court of Human Rights also opposes the repatriation of migrants to Libya on the ground that they could face rights abuse.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, will discuss in the coming weeks proposals for controlled holding centres for migrants in member states and cooperation in rescue efforts, spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said earlier this week