Libyan PM Fayez al-Sarraj and EU Council president Donald Tusk met in Brussels today
The North African country said it would need more money from European nations if it is to strike a deal with them to stop large numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean.
Brussels dropped its biggest hint yet today that it wants to seal an agreement with Libya like the one it has with Turkey, under which economic migrants are swiftly deported from the continent.
The EU-Turkey deal has led to a dramatic fall in the number of migrants arriving in Greece, but the pressure has simply switched to Italy instead and the route through Libya.
Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj visited the Belgian capital today to lay down his demands, after his Maltese counterpart Joseph Muscat warned a fresh migrant crisis could kill the whole EU project.
The Libyan leader demanded more cash to stem the flow of migrants to Italy
Mr al-Sarraj also held talks with EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker
Like Turkey’s president Recep Erdogan before him Mr al-Sarraj, who is head of the war-ravaged country’s internationally recognised government, seemed to recognise he has Europe over a barrel on the issue of migration.
He told a press conference: “Irregular migration is a major problem. It is something dramatic. We hope that the EU mechanisms to help Libya will be more practical.
“This will help us to solve the problem and to save the lives of the irregular migrants and return them to their countries of origins, where they should hopefully find some jobs and growth so they don’t need to think of leaving and migrating at risk to their lives.”
We hope that the EU mechanisms to help Libya will be more practical
Libyan PM Fayez al-Sarraj
He then added: “We are not going to mention the amount of money that … dedicated to Libya for this help because they are very humble, very small amounts.”
The EU has already agreed to help bolster Libya’s coast guard with extra training and is also set to lay on the cash to persuade the impoverished country to take back migrants caught at sea.
Brussels had to promise Turkey an eye watering £5 billion to get it to agree to a similar deal, although it is believed that Libya would demand less than this.
EU Council president Donald Tusk said: “Europe has proved it is able to close down irregular routes of migration as we did on the eastern Mediterranean route.
“Now it is time to close down the route from Libya to Italy. I can assure you it is within our reach."
Migrants Rescued in the Mediterranean
Tue, January 3, 2017
Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue all 112 on aboard, including two pregnant women and five children, as it drifts out of control in the central Mediterranean Sea, some 36 nautical miles off the Libyan coast January 2, 2017
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Migrants try to reach a rescue craft from their overcrowded raft, as lifeguards from the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue all 112 on aboard
He vowed: “What we need is a full determination to do that. We owe it first and foremost to those who suffer and risk their lives but we also owe it to the Italians and all Europeans.”
The deadly route across the Mediterranean is now the main gateway to Europe, with some 181,000 arrivals in 2016.
It is run by smugglers who operate with impunity in Libya, which slid into chaos after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.