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IMMIGRATION

Italy and Libya agree to reactivate friendship treaty to quell migration

Italy and Libya on Saturday (July 7) agreed to reactivate a friendship treaty signed a decade ago that allows migrants to be returned to Libyan territory.

Italy and Libya agree to reactivate friendship treaty to quell migration
The flow of migrants through Libya surged after Kadhafi was toppled and killed in 2011. Photo: AFP

“We agreed to reactivate the 2008 Italian-Libyan friendship treaty,” said Libya's foreign minister Mohamad Siala in a joint press conference in Tripoli with Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero Milanesi.

Milanesi hailed the agreement reached during his first visit to Tripoli as “significant and promising”.

The original treaty was signed by former Libyan dictator Moumar Gadhafi and Italy's then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, as they sought to turn a page on 40 years of stormy relations between the North African country and its former coloniser.

But the deal was suspended in February 2011, after the start of the uprising that saw Gadhafi forced from power and killed.

The original treaty envisaged unlocking US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) of Italian investment in Libya as compensation for colonisation by Rome.

In exchange, Libya would work to stop illegal migrants embarking from its shores – and receive those sent back to the north African country, a clause lambasted by human rights activists.

The two ministers did not say if the text of the reactivated treaty had been amended.

The agreement means “all the conditions are in place to work hand in hand to support stabilisation… (of) Libya's security and unity”, Milanesi said.

Libya “shares with the European Union the responsibility and the duty to deal with migrants”, he added.

“Co-operation between Libya, Italy and the EU is essential to resolve the immigration question and avoid human tragedies”, said Milanesi.

During Kadhafi's rule, thousands of migrants crossed Libya's nearly 5,000km of land borders in attempts to reach the Mediterranean and cross to Europe.

The flow of migrants through Libya surged after Gadhafi was toppled and killed in 2011, with smugglers exploiting the country's chaos to send tens of thousands of people each year across a 300km stretch of the Mediterranean to Italian territory.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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