Libya’s UN-backed government is refusing permission for the EU to set up migrant processing centres on its soil, the country’s Prime Minister Faiez Serraj has told the Italian defence minister.
After meeting Elizabeth Trenta in Tripoli, Mr Serraj called for the focus of joint efforts to combat illegal migration to be on Libya’s southern borders and the countries of origin further south, according to the Prime Ministers spokesman Mohamed Selleck.
Under plans proposed by both Rome and Brussels, the bases would stem the exodus across the Mediterranean
"It will not happen. There is no need for such a thing. The Serraj government will reject it, it is unacceptable," Mohamed Raied, parliament member for Misrata and head of Libya's Chamber of Commerce, told The National.
The news came as Italy’s hard-line interior minister Matteo Salvini dismissed another key plank of the EU strategy, which would see states paid €6,000 per migrant provided they accept them in secure centres in a further change to the bloc's policy.
While the EU claimed it would alleviate migrant pressures, Mr Salvani said it would acerbate the problem. “We aren’t asking for charity handouts. Every asylum seeker costs the Italian taxpayer between €40,000 and €50,000. Brussels, they can keep their charity for themselves,” he said. “We don’t want money. We want dignity.”
In order to be able to process boatloads of 500 migrants at a time, the EU Commission estimated that each processing centre that is established would need at least 315 staff, including 100 interpreters and “cultural mediators.” No EU country has stepped forward to say they would host such a centre.
Although numbers taking the life-threatening voyage across the Mediterranean have fallen sharply, the issue has become a political crisis, with Mr Salvini spearheading attempts to prevent migrant-boats docking in Italy.
EU leaders – including Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte – agreed to create secure centres for processing asylum claims of Mediterranean migrants last month. But the plans were immediately thrown into doubt when Austria, France, Germany and Italy indicated they had no intentions of hosting such centres.
France and Italy have been seen as operating differing policies on Libya, with the Italians throwing its weight by the UN-backed Government of National Accord and the French showing sympathy towards east-Libyan General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army.
Field Marshall Hafter’s LNA has previously condemned Italian ruminations for a base in Libya. The LNA said it would “take all measures to protect the Libyan state… so as to prevent any act that violates national sovereignty. This would be considered a flagrant violation of the rules of international law and a blatant attack on the Libyan state.”
Italy has conducted research over a potential military outpost on Libya’s southwestern border with Algeria recently and continues to do so. This led to protests in the town of Ghat, near to where the muted base would be. Images of furious locals stamping on an Italian flag were shared on social media and Ghat airport was briefly taken over by angry youngsters threatening to stop any Italian delegation landing.
"[The Italian ambassador] is not welcome in the south [of Libya]," said a senior southern Tribal figure, muted by many as the future deputy prime minister. "Having said this the government needs legitimacy and we appreciate the push for elections. But it can't come in December, we must wait until conditions have changed," he told The National.
Arriving back in Italy, Ms Trenta also attacked a French push for Libyan elections by the end of the year, condemning it as foreign interference.
"We do not believe that an acceleration of the electoral process can bring stability," said Ms Trenta adding that the north African nation also needed "reconciliation, the return of security and political work.”
One Libyan observer present at talks with Emmanuel Macron in May said the French President “appeared overeager to commit to agreements without considering they could be followed through. It seemed like a show to me. Macron doesn’t seem to understand how divided Libyans we are. We’ve not had a functioning, accountable government for 50 years.”
Mr Macron brought together Libyan leaders to push for a December presidential election in Libya, a move criticised by observers who said conditions were not right for results to be respectively observed.
On Monday, French foreign minister Jean-Yves LeDrian arrived in Tripoli, and then headed to the Haftar-stronghold of Benghazi, to help pave the way for elections in December.