Every life lost in the Mediterranean is one too many -EU Spokesperson

The European Union has identified nearly €100 million that could be mobilised in Libya to support the response to the coronavirus pandemic and not, as requested by the Maltese Government, for the migrants’ situation in Libya. This was confirmed to Newsbook.com.mt by Peter Stano, Lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Newsbook.com.mt asked for reactions from the EU Commissioner Josep Borrell following the letter sent by Ministers Evarist Bartolo and Byron Camilleri on the 13th April 2020

The Maltese government had asked for “imminent and substantial” humanitarian aid for Libya linked to the immigrant crisis.

“Over 650,000 people await to leave Libyan shores for Europe as the rate of departures accelerates…The only sustainable and realistic option to avoid this humanitarian crisis and save the lives of men, women and children is for the EU to launch an immediate humanitarian mission…to Libyans and migrants,” wrote the Maltese Government.

However, the EU OBSERVER said that most of the migrants in Libya are economic migrants “…but many others are in need of international protection, including some 48,000 asylum seekers and refugees registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)”. It added that Libyan detention centres now hold around 1,500 people – down from 5,000 last year. However, the UNHCR has warned that it expects new departures as the coronavirus pandemic has added another push factor for people to leave Libya.

Help for the COVID-19 crisis

In his reply in reaction to this letter, Peter Stano wrote that, following the letter by the government of Malta, on the 22nd April, the EU Foreign Ministers ‘touched upon’ Libya in the informal meeting. “The EU is working on all fronts to help the Libyans address the coronavirus crisis and to find a solution to the ongoing conflict. The EU is responding to the challenges faced by Libya with increased diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the crisis as well as with financial support to help Libya to deal with the impact of coronavirus,” said Stano. The aid will therefore not be directed at the migrant situation as had been requested by the Maltese government but at alleviating the problems raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A country in conflict

The EU spokesperson noted that the pandemic has made an already fraught situation in Libya worse. Significantly, perhaps, Stano used the conditional terms in his reply: ‘€100 million that could be mobilised in Libya’ clearly indicating that in its current war-torn state, Libya may not even be able to benefit from this aid.  “We continue to support the UN-led mediation efforts and the outcome of the Berlin Conference,” added the spokesperson.

Indeed, in a joint statement issued on the 25th April 2020, the High Representative Josep Borrell and Foreign Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian of France, Heiko Maas of Germany and Luigi Di Maio of Italy said “The conflict continues unabated and developments during the latest weeks have increased concerns, in particular over the situation among the long-suffering Libyan population. We call on all the Libyan actors to get inspired by the spirit of the Holy Ramadan, engage in resuming talks for a genuine ceasefire on the basis of the draft agreement of the Military Committee of 23 February, and in view of a political solution to the conflict, and unite their efforts to face the common enemy which the current pandemic risks represent in the interest of the whole country”. Newsbook.com.mt is awaiting replies from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs as to why, considering the government’s concerns, it was not a signatory to this statement.

Increased diplomatic efforts

Peter Stano’s reaction to the recent reports on the loss of life in the Pasquetta Tragedy was predictable: “we have seen the reports and are sorry for this loss of life. Tragically, this is a very sad reminder about the risks still faced by those making this dangerous journey to Europe,” wrote Stano. He said that the aim of the European Union “…has always been, to prevent these perilous journeys taking place in the first place. To prevent further loss of life, it is crucial to ensure adequate search and rescue capacity and to accelerate safe and dignified alternatives to dangerous crossings out of Libya”.  The Eu spokesperson, however, said that “again there will be no effective or sustainable solution to any of the problems Libya is currently facing unless the fighting stops, a political solution is found and stability and peace can return to Libya”.