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EU to restrict inflatable boat sales to Libya

The European Union will be restricting sales of inflatable boats and outboard motors to Libya in an effort to stop human trafficking across the Mediterranean.

Published: July 19, 2017, 7:24 am

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    EU foreign ministers agreed Monday to ban such export or supply “where there are reasonable grounds to believe that they will be used by people smugglers and human traffickers.”

    After thousands of people died crossing the Mediterranean and countless others have poured into countries like Italy, the EU had obviously been happy to sell Libya boats and motors.

    The foreign ministers also agreed to extend a border aid mission in Libya through the end of 2018 that helps Libyan security forces, notably in the lawless south. Migrant crossings from Libya to Italy on unsafe boats have increased in recent weeks.

    The migration minister of Belgium meanwhile said that his country should withdraw its frigate from an EU mission near Libya because the presence of such vessels encouraged migrants to make the perilous journey across the central Mediterranean.

    Reuters reported that the military vessels in fact save the drowning migrants and transport them to the EU. “I personally think this operation should not be repeated because it is pure lunacy. There is no logic to it,” migration minister Theo Francken told broadcaster VTM.

    “It is not about whether we should save them or not. We should. But this creates an effect of drawing in migrants with more dead people as a result. It is a shame on Europe,” Francken said. He is a critic of the NGOs aiding smugglers in the Mediterranean.

    A spokeswoman for the Belgian defense ministry said the country would continue to be part of the mission only if the Libyan government allowed EU vessels inside its waters, suggesting that migrants would be taken back to Africa.

    In the first six months of 2017, some 85 000 migrants arrived in Italy, a fifth more than in the same period last year, EU border agency Frontex announced this month. Mostly people from Nigeria, Bangladesh and Ivory Coast, where there are no current conflicts, are making the journey. They have a low likelihood of being accepted as asylum seekers, Frontex added.

    On Monday the Estonian government announced that it would allocate €1 million to end the migratory flows from Libya to Italy. The money is coming from the state reserves and will be paid to the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF).

    In cooperation with Libya, its neighboring countries, and international organisations, the EUTF aims to control the influx. The migration route in the central section of the Mediterranean was still in a critical situation, the government stated in a press release.

    In recent days, the number of migrants arriving to Italy has sharply increased and the country’s reception capacity is under great pressure. At the most recent European Council meeting, leaders stressed that the loss of life and continuing migratory flows of primarily economic migrants on the Central Mediterranean route is a structural challenge and remains an issue of urgent concern and requires decisive action.

    The Libyan route has produced 86 percent of all illegal immigration in the EU this year already. On June 27-28 alone, around 12 000 refugees arrived at Italian ports while more than 2000 people have died in the Mediterranean in the past six months.

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