EU border agency expects as many migrants via Libya this year as last

NTD Newsroom
By NTD Newsroom
February 15, 2017World News

The European Union should expect as many migrants crossing from Libya this year as last, when a record number disembarked in Italy, the head of the bloc’s border agency said on Wednesday (February 15).

Some 1.6 million refugees and migrants reached the bloc by crossing the Mediterranean in 2014-2016; the main route now leads from the shores of the lawless Libya to Italy.

“At this point, unfortunately I have to say that it is probably realistic. We have to be ready to face the same number. There was an increase by 17 percent last year, so we had approximately 180,000 irregular border crossings coming from Libya or from the central Mediterranean route let’s say. So we have to be ready to face the same number,” Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the EU’s border agency Frontex, told reporters.

The bloc, overwhelmed by the arrivals and waging bitter internal battles on how to share the burden, has increased its efforts to cut the number of people who use smugglers’ boats to make the perilous voyage.

This includes support for the U.N.-backed Libyan government in Tripoli, efforts to boost deportations of people with no case for asylum, and working with African states along the migration trails to ensure they let fewer people pass.

But these would only bear fruit in the medium- to long-term, Leggeri said, adding that for now the EU had to ensure Italy has enough support and capacity to handle high arrivals.

“I hope that 2017 will see the start of a shift, a positive impact on alternative measures, cooperation with countries of transit, countries of origin. Some campaign in order to make migrants aware of the risk and so on but these are measures that need time,” he said.

The EU says some 70 percent of people coming via Libya from the impoverished Africa are not fleeing violent conflicts or oppressive regimes and hence are unlikely to win asylum. They are qualified as economic migrants and the EU wants to deport them.

Frontex said the whole bloc deported some 176,000 people last year, roughly in line with 2015. But a majority of these returns are actually of nationals from the non-EU states in the Western Balkans.

The more complicated deportations to the Middle East are often held up by asylum procedures, which ensure the right to appeal.

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