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* One mayor says migration crisis too big for Libya to
* Italy-Libya deal foresees funding for holding centres
* Around 181,000 arrived in Italy in 2016
By Ahmed Elumami
TRIPOLI, Feb 10 Mayors from Libya's desert south
to northern shores fear a deal struck between Tripoli and Rome
to fund migrant holding centres in the north African country
will simply shift Europe's migration crisis onto Libyan soil.
The Mediterranean sea between Libya and Italy has become the
main crossing point for asylum seekers and economic migrants
seeking a better life in Europe. Last year Italy recorded its
record number of migrant arrivals.
The deal foresees European Union money for holding centres
in towns and cities along the main human trafficking routes
criss-crossing Libya, as well as training and equipment to fight
"Our priority is to support our own sons instead of allowing
for illegal migrants in centres," said Hamed Al-Khyali, mayor of
the southern city of Sabha, a migrant smuggling hub.
"If the Europeans want to allow them to stay, they can have
them in their own lands, which are larger, but not in Libya
because we have our own problems to take care of."
Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 toppling of
long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi, enabling smuggling gangs to
develop entrenched networks. They typically demand thousands of
dollars from migrants for a risky journey across the desert
before cramming them onto ill-equipped boats for a perilous
crossing of the Mediterranean. An estimated 4,500 migrants
drowned in 2016.
The agreement will depend heavily on the cooperation of
local authorities along the smuggling routes because the
U.N.-backed government in Tripoli exerts little effective
control over much of the country.
Several mayors said they were not notified of the accord
before it was struck.
The agreement, which has the backing of EU leaders, pledges
support for "reception camps" where migrants can be held "until
their deportation or their voluntary return to their countries
Some migrant detention centres already exist in Libya. A
U.N. report in December said migrants in Libya were exposed to
widespread abuse in the centres, which are generally controlled
by armed groups though some have official status. The report
also said some local officials were collaborating with the
Hussein Thwadi, mayor of the western coastal city of
Sabratha, the departure point most frequently used for
Mediterranean crossings by smugglers in Libya right now, said
keeping migrants in Libya would be a "dangerous step".
"The idea of allowing illegal migrants to stay in Libya and
providing good conditions for their livelihood is rejected by
Libyans and by the authorities too," Thwadi said.
The migrant crisis was too great for Libyan authorities to
handle, the mayor said.
"The problem of illegal migration must be solved
Most migrant-smuggling boats launch from western Libya. But
the authorities in eastern Libya, which oppose the U.N.-backed
government and control swathes of the south used by the human
traffickers, this week rejected the Italian-Libyan deal.
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday said
this came as no surprise.
"We got ourselves a good deal, but it's not a magic wand, it
doesn't mean that tomorrow morning all the problems will be
resolved," Alfano told reporters.
This week the EU said it would try to protect migrants in
Libya and increase voluntary repatriations through closer
cooperation with the U.N. refugee agency and the International
Organisation for Migration.
Both agencies have said that Libya should not be considered
a safe country to hold migrants and process asylum requests.
(Additional reporting by Antonella Cinelli; Writing by Aidan
Lewis; Editing by Richard Lough)