EU hikes support for Libya coast guard to stop migrants
BRUSSELS - The EU unveiled plans Wednesday to increase training for the Libyan coast guard as part of new measures to stop African migrants leaving for Europe in a feared spring surge.
The European Commission, the EU executive, said the fragile UN-backed government in Tripoli should receive 3.2 million euros ($3.4 million) in fees and grants for an EU programme launched last October to train and equip the coast guard.
"The proposal is to increase significantly the training of the Libyan coast guards," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a press conference in Brussels.
Her comments came ahead of an EU summit in Malta next week to tackle migration and other issues. EU interior ministers meanwhile meet in Valetta on Thursday and Friday to discuss the issue.
EU states are debating ways to get Libya to do more to curb migrant departures as the EU's naval operation "Sophia", launched in 2015 to crack down on smugglers on the high seas, is not able to intervene in Libyan waters.
The commission also called for mobilising 200 million euros ($214 million) -- an increase of 50 million euros from earlier plans -- to help Libya and its neighbours with general migration-related projects.
The money would go towards improving conditions for migrants in Libya and arranging for accelerated voluntary returns to their countries of origin with help from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
A European official told journalists on condition of anonymity that reception conditions for hundreds of migrants in Libya were "deplorable" and failed to meet international standards.
The commission also called for EU aid to the Libyan authorities to curb the arrival of Europe-bound migrants on its southern borders, and for working more closely with Libya's neighbours Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has warned there could be an "unprecedented" migrant flow in the spring.
Muscat wants a Libya deal that copies aspects of a controversial EU aid-for-cooperation deal with Turkey but it will be tough due to the political chaos in Libya since the 2011 overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi.