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European Council adopts declaration on cooperation with Libya amidst human rights warnings
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The European Council meeting in Malta has issued a declaration on the "external aspects of migration", primarily focusing on the "Central Mediterranean Route" and cooperation with Libya.

There are no major changes in the content compared to the draft declaration published by Statewatch yesterday, although an affirmation of a "determination to act in full respect of human rights, international law and European values" has been moved to the first paragraph.

However, these warm words are not backed up elsewhere in the text, for example by including a committment to "a significant expansion of opportunities for safe pathways such as resettlement and humanitarian admission, among others, to avoid dangerous journeys," as called for by the UNHCR and IOM.

See: Malta Declaration by the members of the European Council on the external aspects of migration: addressing the Central Mediterranean route (pdf) and for comparison: the earlier draft (pdf)

And: Joint UNHCR and IOM statement on addressing migration and refugee movements along the Central Mediterranean route (UNHCR, link):

"Concrete measures in support of the Government of Libya are needed to build capacity to register new arrivals, support the voluntary return of migrants, process asylum claims and offer solutions to refugees. This should include a significant expansion of opportunities for safe pathways such as resettlement and humanitarian admission, among others, to avoid dangerous journeys."

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights also issued a warning regarding cooperation between the EU and "third countries" on migration, calling for "a paradigm shift of European immigration and asylum policies." See: EU agreements with third countries must uphold human rights (pdf)

The need for safe passage does not feature in the European Council's extensive list of priorities for cooperation with Libya, and there is no sign of a "paradigm shift" (emphasis added):

"Priority will be given to the following elements:

a) training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coast guard and other relevant agencies. [the draft did not mention "other relevant agencies"] Complementary EU training programmes must be rapidly stepped up, both in intensity and numbers, starting with those already undertaken by Operation SOPHIA and building on its experience. Funding and planning for these activities needs to be made sustainable and predictable, including through the Seahorse Mediterranean Network;

b) further efforts to disrupt the business model of smugglers through enhanced operational action, within an integrated approach involving Libya and other countries on the route and relevant international partners, engaged Member States, CSDP missions and operations, Europol and the European Border and Coast Guard;

c) supporting where possible the development of local communities in Libya, especially in coastal areas and at Libyan land borders on the migratory routes, to improve their socio-economic situation and enhance their resilience as host communities;

d) seeking to ensure adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants, together with the UNHCR and IOM;

e) supporting IOM in significantly stepping up assisted voluntary return activities [elsewhere the text lays heavy emphasis on returns, noting that "barriers" will be identified whilst "respecting international law" and welcomes the "the Commission's intention to rapidly present, as a first step, an updated Action Plan on Returns and to provide guidance for more operational returns"];

f) enhancing information campaigns and outreach addressed at migrants in Libya and countries of origin and transit, in cooperation with local actors and international organisations, particularly to counter the smugglers' business model;

g) helping to reduce the pressure on Libya's land borders, working both with the Libyan authorities and all neighbours of Libya, including by supporting projects enhancing their border management capacity;

h) keeping track of alternative routes and possible diversion of smugglers' activities, through cooperative efforts with Libya's neighbours and the countries under the Partnership Framework, with the support of Member States and all relevant EU agencies and by making available all necessary surveillance instruments;

i) continuing support to efforts and initiatives from individual Member States directly engaged with Libya; in this respect, the EU welcomes and is ready to support Italy in its implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 2 February 2017 by the Italian Authorities and Chairman of the Presidential Council al-Serraj [link];

j) deepening dialogue and cooperation on migration with all countries neighbouring Libya, including better operational cooperation with Member States and the European Border and Coast Guard on preventing departures and managing returns."

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