Thursday, 27 July, 2017
Refugees and migrants crowd onboard a wooden boat, as they wait to be assisted by an NGO off the coast of Libya CREDIT: AP
By David Chazan, toulon
France will vet asylum-seekers in Libya before they embark on the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, but his own officials dismissed the plan as impractical.
Mr Macron said France would open centres in Libya before the end of the summer to process asylum applications. “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they’re not all eligible for asylum. We’ll go to them,” Mr Macron said during a visit to a refugee shelter in Orléans, central France.
He said the centres would help to stem the massive influx of migrants into Italy and elsewhere in Europe. However, the president’s own officials immediately cast doubt on whether the plan could be implemented at present, pointing out that security was not yet good enough in Libya.
Mr Macron’s announcement came two days after he brokered talks in Paris between the leaders of Libya’s two main factions, who agreed to a conditional ceasefire and elections.
Diplomats were sceptical about the agreement’s chances of holding. Angelino Alfano, the foreign minister of Libya’s former colonial ruler, Italy, said mediation efforts should be “united” within the framework of the UN.
Other EU countries are reluctant to back Mr Macron’s plan to deal with asylum seekers in Libya, but he said France was prepared to go it alone.
More than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean since January. More than 2,300 have drowned in the attempt.
The majority land in Italy, which has complained of a lack of support from other EU countries in coping with the influx.
Human Rights Watch said it was dangerous to try to process asylum-seekers’ applications in Libya. “[This] carries the risk of human rights abuses,” said Judith Sunderland, the group’s associate director for Europe.
Mr Macron also said he wanted to take all migrants off the streets of France by the end of this year, promising that “dignified” accommodation would be found thousands now sleeping rough.
He warned that those fleeing poverty, rather than war or persecution, were unlikely to be accepted for resettlement in France. “No country can take all the economic migrants,” he said.