Italy strikes deal with Libya in bid to stop migrants making perilous journeys into Europe

Aletha Adu — The Express Feb 3, 2017

Refugees from Libya and Syria attempt to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe. Click to enlarge

Refugees from Libya and Syria attempt to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe. Click to enlarge

Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian prime minister, said he had reached an agreement with Libyan leader Fayez Serraj hours before an EU leaders summit in Malta is due to take place.

According to Downing Street sources, Mrs May will use the summit to stress the importance of the migrant crisis to EU leaders.

Mr Gentiloni described the deal as “just a piece” of a wider plan that will require EU funding.

He said: “If we want to give real strength and legs to managing migration flows, then there needs to be an economic commitment by the whole of the EU.”

The agreement means Libya will receive Italian assistance in the fight against migrant trafficking.

Italy’s Coast Guard has already co-ordinated the rescue of hundreds of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean near Libya during the last few years.

Ahead of EU summit, European Council president Donald Tusk said clamping down on smuggling rings “is the only way to stop people dying in the desert and at sea”.

Tusk added: “(It is) the only way to gain control over migration in Europe. The goal is within our reach. Europe should and will stand by Italy in sharing responsibility.”

Italy has already set up a fund of £171 million to help Libya, Tunisia and Nigeria deter migrants from travelling to Europe.

Mr Serraj told reporters in Rome that his agreement with Mr Gentiloni calls for Libyan Coast Guard vessels patrolling the waters off the country’s north and “humanitarian repatriation” of migrants to receive more support.

But he said he would not allow foreign vessels in Libya’s territorial waters unless his state receives aid to build up its navy.

The International Organisation for Migration claimed at least 5,083 people died in the Mediterranean Sea last year.

Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief said: “We are talking about a complicated situation on the ground. We have an interest as Europeans to invest.”

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