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Ian Drury — Daily Mail March 30, 2017

More than 1,750 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2015, three times more than 2014, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Click to enlarge

More than 1,750 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2015, three times more than 2014, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Click to enlarge

More than 1million migrants are ‘in the pipeline’ in Libya hoping to cross to Europe, a senior diplomat has warned.

Joseph Walker-Cousins, former head of the British Embassy Office in Benghazi, said refugees were massing in the war-torn country having fled conflict and poverty.

Criminal human trafficking gangs are raking in billions of pounds charging migrants large sums to be smuggled across the Mediterranean in flimsy dinghies and boats.

Mr Walker-Cousins also launched a scathing attack on the European Union naval mission to reduce the number of people making the dangerous journey and prevent deaths at sea.

He said Operation Sophia – set up to stem the flow of migrants from Libya and neighbouring countries to Italy – was ‘incentivising failure’ including drownings.

It encouraged criminal gangs to put vulnerable refugees to sea in overcrowded, rickety vessels in the knowledge that if they capsized, EU ships would try to rescue the stricken human cargo, he said.

His assessment will raise concerns that the worst migrant crisis engulfing Europe since the Second World War will deepen.

Some 600 migrants have drowned so far this year.

Mr Walker-Cousins, a senior fellow at the Institute for Statecraft think-tank, made his remarks while giving evidence to the House of Lords’ EU External Affairs Sub-Committee.

He said the collapse of functioning government in Libya had led to a breakdown of border control – meaning migrants from across Africa were flocking to the coast in a desperate bid to reach Europe.

‘Up to a million migrants if not more are in the pipeline,’ he said. ‘They will take a long time to work their way through that pipeline but it is well-established.’

The EU had done ‘too little, too late’ to tackle the crisis, he said. The focus should have been on patrolling Libya’s land borders 1,400km to the south rather than dealing with migrants when they got to the shores of the Med ‘a stone’s throw from their final destination’.

More had to be done to reach a political solution in the north African nation, which had plunged into civil war and militia violence since Colonel Gadaffi was toppled by a US-led coalition in 2011.

Migrants on the Hungarian-Croatian border. Click to enlarge

Migrants on the Hungarian-Croatian border. Click to enlarge

Mr Walker-Cousins said: ‘Then we can begin to restore border security along the land borders and achieve the desired results in terms of stemming the flow of migrants and prevent them putting themselves at the mercy of those gruesome, merciless traffickers.’

He was critical of the failure of Western governments, including Britain, to continue offering ‘leadership’ after prompting the collapse of the Gadaffi regime

‘I don’t want to say there is a vacuum of ownership and leadership at the political level but that sort of engagement and that appetite to own what is going on in Libya does not seem to exist now in a way it did then,’ he said.

‘No one really wants to own it – it is someone else’s mess.’

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was working to smash the Libyan smugglers’ businesses, with 414 boats destroyed and 109 traffickers arrested.

But officials conceded that a decision to destroy traffickers’ vessels had seen them push refugees out to sea in less seaworthy boats.

The number of migrants reaching southern Europe by sea plunged by nearly two-thirds last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the EU border agency Frontex.

About 364,000 people seeking work or refugee protection crossed the sea in 2016 compared to more than one million the year before.