Libya asks EU for ships and radars to stop migrants: sources

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Illegal migrants, who have been detained after trying to get to Europe, sit in row on the ground of a detention camp in Gheryan, outside Tripoli

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Libya has asked the European Union to provide it with ships and radars to help its forces stop the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean, sources in Brussels said.

They said EU foreign ministers would review the “shopping list” at a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, but would not be able to meet all the requests.

The bloc is supporting the government of Prime Minister Fayez Seraj in the hope it can gain control over the whole country after years of chaos and fighting. In exchange, it wants his help on preventing African refugees and migrants from embarking from the coast of Libya for Europe.

“We have received a formal request and it’s under consideration,” a senior EU diplomat said. “We need it to be linked to the work we are doing on borders to ensure it is going to be used effectively.”

The EU is already training the Libyan coastguard to intercept smuggler boats and return them to the north African country. Last year, Libya was the main embarkation point for people seeking to reach Europe via Italy, a dangerous route that the EU fears will grow busier as spring brings calmer seas.

“It’s a very long shopping list, includes various sorts of vessels and radars and other equipment,” another senior diplomat said. “We need to decipher it first but we definitely won’t be able to give it all.

“Still, there are ways: we can look at some older equipment, or some assets confiscated from people smugglers. But we have to make sure it is in line with what we are trying to achieve there and that it is used properly.”

The first diplomat said ministers would also discuss the role of Russia in Libya, an increasing worry for the EU as Moscow courts Khalifa Haftar, a warlord who rejects Seraj’s authority.

MIGRANT CAMPS IN LIBYA

Ministers will also discuss recent visits to Libya by the International Organization for Migration, an arm of the United Nations.

The EU has decided to step up funding for the IOM to help it improve conditions in migrant camps in Libya and provide financial and other help to people stranded there who want to go back home to countries further south.

The dire security situation is the key issue preventing access and making any scaling-up of IOM operations on the ground extremely difficult. A complex matrix of links exists between the government and various militias who run some of the camps.

EU officials describe conditions there as akin to wartime concentration camps. They say people smugglers thrive there, capitalizing on people’s desperation to get out.

“There is no law or order on the ground in Libya, no structures,” said a third person familiar with the situation. “It’s always a negotiation, each time over every single thing – there is no system.”

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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