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EU military mission in Libya won't tackle root causes of migrant crisis

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Suspected migrants sit on the ground after being detained in an early morning raid conducted by Libyan security forces in Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Hani Amara

EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to send naval ships to Libya to target smuggler boats, responsible for bringing thousands of migrants to Europe's doorstep. The mission, set to begin next month, will be the first intervention of EU forces inside Libya since the fall of Muammar Kadhafi. The country's internationally recognised government in Tobruk has rejected the plan, as have critics.


The EU announcement came shortly after the internationally recognized government in Tobruk said it would be launching its own operation to stem what it calls "illegal immigration." This, according to online newspaper Al Wasat.

Libyan authorities have not yet disclosed how they plan to manage the migration crisis-which has seen thousands of migrants die trying to cross the Mediterranean sea -but insists the EU should talk to it first, government spokesman Hatem el-Ouraybi told AFP on Monday.

But the ongoing political turmoil makes it difficult to find an interlocutor ready to stay the course. Since the fall of Muammar Kadhafi in 2011, Libya has been divided into two warring fractions with foreign military backing.

The EU has thus pushed ahead on its own by going after the migrant smugglers, with the aim of disrupting their lucrative networks. It is also awaiting the green light from the UN to destroy boats that belong to people smugglers in Libyan waters. A move that has largely been slated as ineffective.

"Smugglers will always find a way to make money, either from importing new boats or making make-shift boats, which will increase the loss of life in the Mediterranean,” Gerry Simpson, Senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch, told RFI.

Most critics argue that smugglers are only the symptom of a much bigger problem, which is Libya's state collapse.

"Europe created this migrant crisis," Francois Ndengwe told RFI. The head of the African Advisory Board slammed EU countries for failing to anticipate a plan B after the fall of Kadhafi.

"But Africa also needs to act," Ndengwe added. "We need to be sovereign not just of our country but also our sea," he said.

Libya sadly, is in control of neither, and smugglers have taken advantage of this..

Tens of hundreds of migrants are prepared to pay between $400 to $3,500 dollars to cross the Mediterranean sea.

"It's a very lucrative trade," Jason Pack, Middle East researcher from Libya analysis.com told RFI. "The militias who engage in smuggling are connected to both the pseudo governments and they gain money by this smuggling, it’s in their interest for it to continue."

Asked what pressure African governments could put on Libyan authorities, he replied: "the people who are fleeing come from countries like Eritrea, and many oppose the dictatorship… so why would the authorities want to pin them down to stay? Of course they’re very happy for them to leave and be migrants elsewhere.”

Eritreans make up the second largest number of migrants - after Syrians -who pass through Libya to cross into Europe. Mekonen is one of them. Currently detained in Holot detention centre in Israel, he spent over a year in Libya, after fleeing his native country.

He criticizes what he calls the EU's knee-jerk reactions, and says Europe should tackle the root causes that push migrants to flee.

"Rather than granting asylum or destroying smugglers' boats, what the EU should do is put pressure on the Eritrean government" he told RFI. "The solution to at least part of the migrant crisis is there," he said.