A self-declared government in Libya has issued a Gaddafiesque threat to flood Europe with “hundreds of thousands” of new migrants if the European Union (EU) fails to give the Islamist faction legal recognition.
The threat, to charter boats and ferry ever-larger numbers of African migrants across the Mediterranean, came from Libya’s General National Congress (GNC). The GNC is the political wing of the Libya Dawn coalition which took control of Tripoli and the coastal areas where most migrant boats embark to Europe last year, after fighting forces loyal to the internationally- recognised House of Representatives government.
The GNC’s foreign media spokesman said it currently spends tens of millions of pounds a year to fund detention centres and repatriation programs which prevent Mediterranean crossings. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Jamal Zubia said a continued refusal to recognise the authority of the GNC could see the policy reversed:
“To be honest, I have advised my goverment many times already that we should hire boats and send them to Europe.
“We are protecting the gates of Europe, yet Europe does not recognise us and does not want to recognise us. So why should we stop the migrants here?”
Vincenzo Camporini, Italy’s former defence chief, has criticised the EU’s refusal to recognise the GNC. He told the EUobserver website: “The EU should be more flexible, more realistic, in its discussions with local authorities.”
While Libya has always been a popular transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants, the chaos left following the 2011 fall of Colonel Gaddafi’s dictatorship – a move carried out with the backing of Western governments – has caused the numbers to snowball.
Last year an estimated 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy on boats from Libya and yesterday the United Nations refugee agency said that 218,394 crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in the month of October alone – a monthly record.
Libya does not, in fact, ignore people smuggling on migrant boats. Large numbers of people who enter the country illegally are detained and the International Organisation for Migration assists local authorities running voluntary repatriation programmes. However, local officials are said to resent deploying their own resources to combat what they see as Europe’s problem.
This is not the first time Libya has threatened to flood Europe with migrants.
In 2005 Colonel Gaddafi threatened to “turn Europe black” if Europe did not pay him £4.1 billion in aid a year. Mr Zubia said:
“Gaddafi did this threat and brought Europe to its knees.
“You need to remember that we are doing your protection for you. We cannot stay forever doing this craziness, spending lots of money on nothing.”
Colonel Gaddafi issued the threat when visiting Italy. On that occasion he warned:
“We need support from the European Union to stop this army trying to get across from Libya, which is their entry point.
“At the moment there is a dangerous level of immigration from Africa into Europe and we don’t know what will happen. What will be the reaction of the white Christian Europeans to this mass of hungry, uneducated Africans?
“We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and cohesive continent or if it will be destroyed by this barbarian invasion. We have to imagine that this could happen but before it does we need to work together.”
Critics have warned that a Western-backed move to remove President Assad from office in Syria will leave behind a power vacuum and chaos similar to that in Libya.