First 3 million, then 10 million, now an impressive 30 million. No, this isn’t an auction, but rather the sum of money allocated to help cope with the humanitarian crisis in Libya. This is the final budget pronounced by European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Kristalina Georgieva, to provide medical support, food and basic essential items to those who are fleeing from Libya and flocking to the Tunisian borders. « Europe is not just acting to bring EU citizens to safety, but also to give aid to Libyan refugees in neighbouring countries » Commissioner Georgieva said. The European Parliament is equally refusing to just stand and watch the situation unfold, instead deciding to ‘release’ €25 million for this emergency situation.
European diplomacy is taking action on two fronts. Firstly, the 27 EU countries need to come up with a joint strategy to cope with the Libyan crisis. With this goal in mind, Eurozone leaders were called together to discuss the issue on 11 March in Brussels. Secondly, the usual ‘complicated and delicate’ issue of humanitarian aid and immigration will be brought up during the Foreign Affairs Council taking place on 11 and 12 March - the issue naturally being top of the list for the day’s programme.
These two ‘emergency’ meetings are taking place after European institutes adopted sanctions against the Libyan regime. « We’ve done all that we can do and we have weighed up every possible scenario, » said European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom during an interview at the European Parliament on 1 March. Commissioner Malmstrom particularly emphasised the fact that the EU is carefully monitoring the developing situation in every territory concerned, including Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Yemen. During a meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs on 28 February, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fule, stressed that keeping under consideration the possibility of significant migrant flow from Tunisia and Libya into Europe is important, also revealing that the North African revolutionary forces would not be able to build stable and long-lasting political systems ‘overnight’.
Considering the institutional instability and the threat to the lives of so many Libyan citizens, the EU cannot just turn them away, Commissioner Malmstrom said. The Commissioner also stressed that there would be no ‘sorting process’ between European countries accepting North African immigrants, thus highlighting her opposition to Interior Minister Roberto Maroni’s request during the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 24 February. Italy seemed to want the other EU countries to take ‘direct’ charge of immigrants arriving at the Italian coast. In fact, on more than one occasion, the authorities have expressed their wish that North African refugees be ‘sorted’ into the other 27 countries.
In addition to this, the director of agency Frontex, Ikka Laitinen, declared to members of the European Parliament that the 6000 Tunisians who have already arrived on the coasts of Lampedusa did « not need international protection ». Among the 6000 immigrants there were only « a few cases which could have been considered as political asylum seekers, whilst all the others were immigrants who had left their country for economic reasons ».
Frontex’s mission is to monitor the borders and to help Italy repatriate the illegal immigrants. To help improve the situation, joint operation ‘Poseidon’ came into force from 2 March to monitor the borders of EU Mediterranean coasts such as Italy and Greece. The idea of involving the island of Malta in the operation is also being considered, says the director of Frontex, as the state is one of the first stop-offs for immigrants coming from Maghreb countries. The question of Libya has also been brought up at the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties council, held on 1 March. In light of the situation that has been developing over the last few weeks, it was an opportunity to highlight the importance of a reform of asylum rights within the EU.
The EU delegates pointed out that a series of legislative measures, which could improve the management of immigrant flow, has ‘come to a standstill’ because member states have not yet managed to come to an agreement. The European parliament has also allocated €25 million to cope with the humanitarian crisis, a significant sum but not enough, say MEPs, who have invited member states to ‘dig deep in their pockets’ to help the Tunisian and Egyptian authorities welcome the Libyan refugees who are gathering at their borders. France and the United Kingdom have sent aircrafts to help evacuate European citizens, but it seems that the situation in North Africa has yet to improve.