Libya’s rival government in Tripoli has joined the internationally-recognized government located in Tobruk in asserting that, so long as the nation is governed by rival factions, no unified official force will be able to stop the influx of illegal migrants from Libyan ports into Italy.
Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Ghirani, who represented Tripoli’s Islamist Libyan Dawn government, warned that the lack of communication between European nations and Tripoli would result in an unstoppable deluge of immigrants into Europe. “If Europe doesn’t cooperate, then after (some) years Europe will be completely black. Europe will change from a white Europe to an African Europe,” he asserted, according to Reuters. Calling the General National Congress (GNC) “the national salvation government,” al-Ghirani insisted that, so long as the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the Islamic State controlled other parts of the nation, “we cannot do anything. The state is weak.”
The House of Representatives in Tobruk has expressed a similar sentiment, urging the international community — which recognizes Tobruk as the legitimate, democratically-elected government — to help them cement control over Libya’s capital.
“Once the government retakes the capital, Tripoli, and controls the whole western area of Libya, I think it would be very easy to stop this flow of illegal immigrants to Europe because we know everyone who is involved in this business,” said Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations Ibrahim Dabbashi last week.
The nominal support from the international community for the House of Representatives has led pro-Muslim Brotherhood Islamists tied with Tripoli (as opposed to the Islamists of the Islamic State) to seek support from other Muslim Brotherhood operations elsewhere, including opposition factions in Egypt. The Tobruk government has taken on much of the challenge of fighting the Islamic State, which has carved out parts of Libya for its own Sharia government, particularly the port city of Sirte, hometown of late dictator Muammar Qaddafi. On Sunday, Tobruk officials attacked a ship reportedly full of weapons and fuel attempting to reach Sirte and replenish the equipment of the Islamic State.
The Tobruk government has received little help from the international community other than recognition in the fight against both ISIS and the Tripoli rebels. Visiting Washington, D.C. in May, members of the House of Representatives demanded support to unify and stabilize Libya. “The international community is not helping the Libyan army at all… nothing,” said one Libyan HoR representative. “The international community is asking the Libyan military to help with the refugees and fight against Daesh, but they are not helping at all.”
One major obstacle in halting the flow of illegal migrants into Italy, which has experienced an influx of hundreds of migrants a week, is that the ports controlled by smugglers are not in Tobruk-controlled parts of Libya. As Maltese Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella explained in a meeting of the EU-Gulf Cooperation Council, Tripoli controls the major human smuggling ports, and that government has refused to consent to working with Europe to stop the smuggling:
It has also to be pointed out that migrants are leaving mostly from the western side of Libya — mostly Zuwara — 60 kilometres west of Tripoli, a region where the House of Representatives has practically no influence or control whatsoever. This area is under control of the GNC of Tripoli. Be that as it may, I strongly believe that the EU must launch a serious, well-organized, comprehensive system of legal migration catering for both permanent and for temporary stays.
Zuwara is woefully unequipped to prevent thousands of migrants from leaving for Italian shores. The city’s coast guard currently boasts just one boat in its fleet. The city is believed to be under the control of neither Libyan government, but directly managed by human smugglers.
Reuters notes that the Tripoli government has began to detain would-be migrants in detention centers, upsetting the international human rights community. The newswire service estimates that 16,000 migrants are living in detention centers, hundreds to a bathroom.
Reuters estimates that “more than 170,000 migrants” crossed into Europe last year, with the pace of arrests in Europe suggesting that number is growing rapidly in 2015. Most recently, Tripoli authorities arrested a group of 600 migrants attempting to sail to Italy, the Agence France-Presse reports.