On 3 February 2017, the European Council adopted the “Malta Declaration on the external aspects of migration: addressing the Central Mediterranean route” (short: Malta Declaration).

Part of the EU’s wider migration policy, and a direct response to the 2015-2016 increase in the number of sea arrivals to Italy, the Malta Declaration’s primary objective is to reduce the number of irregular departures from Libya, thereby also aiming to reduce the number of deaths this route has become synonymous with. To this end, the Declaration identified ten priorities:

  • Training, equipping and supporting the Libyan Coastguard;
  • Disrupting smuggling cycles and networks;
  • Supporting local communities in Libya, specifically those along migratory routes;
  • Ensuring appropriate reception conditions in Libya in collaboration with the UNHCR and IOM;
  • Working alongside IOM to increase the number of voluntary returns;
  • Improving and increasing advocacy and outreach to educate people in their countries of origin and transit countries on the realities of migration;
  • Strengthening border control and management in Libya;
  • Surveillance and overview of alternative migratory routes that might emerge;
  • Direct support and cooperation between individual member States and Libya (such as the MoU between Italy and Libya, signed one day prior to the Malta Declaration);
  • Strengthening long-term cooperation with countries neighbouring Libya to “prevent departures and manage returns”, i.e. reducing push-factors.

Part of the funding for these was mobilised from the “EU Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa” (short: EU Trust Fund for Africa), which was launched in November 2015, also as part of the EU’s policy on migration. An additional €200 million were promised to jumpstart the Malta Declaration, specifically to finance migration-related projects in or around Libya.

Thus the Malta Declaration identified and strengthened the EU’s main policy objectives concerning Libya (some of which echo those of the 2016 EU-Turkey Deal). These objectives are mainly to support and strengthen the Libyan Coastguard, which in turn means progressive scaling-back of EU involvement (most prominently in the form of the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (which currently coordinates and assigns ports of disembarkation for many of the rescue operations); and to reduce push-factors driving migration, by providing development aid to host and transit countries. Amongst others, the Malta Declaration has been criticized for trapping people in inhumane and insecure conditions in Libya and its detention centres. It has also demonstrated how the EU is willing to cooperate with the Libyan Coastguard, possibly in breach of non-refoulement, to secure European borders.

Lea Main-Klingst*, SOS MEDITERRANEE
*the views of the author are her own and do not represent the views of SOS MEDITERRANEE as an organization