October 17, 2019
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MEPs and the World

EU concerned about displacement of migration and smuggling in Libya

 A demonstration in September 2017 in Tunisian capital against the economic reconciliation law, that would leave corruption during the rule of dictator Ben Ali unpunished. (Photo: Mohamed Messara EFE/EPA)

A demonstration in September 2017 in Tunisian capital against the economic reconciliation law, that would leave corruption during the rule of dictator Ben Ali unpunished. (Photo: Mohamed Messara EFE/EPA)

Tunis, Oct 10 (efe-epa).- The European Union is growing increasingly concerned with the threat posed by Libyan organised criminal groups involved in trafficking migrants and the power of oil and weapons smugglers shifting their operations to the west.

Both issues, along with Islamist terrorism, the fragility of the political transition in Tunisia and chaos in Libya, were the focus of the two delegations of members from the European Parliament who visited the Tunisian capital between Sept. 18 and Sept. 23.

In Libya "it is important to build, as soon as possible, recognizable institutions that have the ability to fight the militias at the outset (...) and contribute towards a normalization of migrations," Member of European Parliament (MEP) Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar from Spain (Socialists) explained to EFE.

"It is like communicating vessels, so if we put a plug (on migrants and refugees) in Turkey it will create a hotspot of the tragedy in the Libyan coast and if we put a plug in the Libyan coast (...), it will show day after tomorrow, sooner than later, at some other place, for example in Ceuta and Melilla," he added.

The MEP visited Tunisia - but with an eye on Libya - along with two other members of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, headed by France's Marie-Christine Vergiat (United Left).

Accompanied by the EU Ambassador to Libya, Bettina Muscheidt - seated in Tunis due to insecurity in Tripoli -, the MEPs met with different politicians and members of the civil society from Libya.

They also met Tunisian officials, who conveyed their concerns regarding how the Libyan crisis was affecting the rest of the countries of North Africa, with special emphasis on turmoil on the border and displacement of the mafias towards the west.

According to official figures, in September Tunisian security forces stopped 555 people from leaving by sea, which was three times more than the previous month.

Faced with this situation, the MEPs once again underlined the frailty of military solutions and advocated opening legal means for immigration, such as concession of visas on humanitarian grounds.

The objective is to reach agreements on "immigration management and border control and improve collaboration between the countries," said Vergiat.

Power of the mafias

"I stress on two points: the policy of return and readmission but also the policy of visa liberalization. It is important to have a wider vision on rescue at sea and the situation in Libya, of migrants and mainly those people who are in detention centers," she added.

The second concern is linked to the power of organised crime groups, particularly those who profit smuggling fuel and food, who easily pass through all the border crossings in the Sahel.

Security sources consulted by EFE in Nalut city in Libya calculated that around 2.6 million liters of gasoline enter Tunisia irregularly every day through the Dehiba border.

Algerian officials have admitted that a similar amount also seeps through its own borders, whereas the triangle formed by Niger, Algeria and Libya through the "Passe de Salvador" is the epicenter of one of the world's most extensive and profitable black markets, not only of arms, but also people, fuel and basic foodstuffs such as wheat, which is a luxury item in Libya.

"We have to fight illegal trafficking of people, as well as other contrabands in the region," Aguilar told EFE, adding that Europe had to focus on building institutions with the ability to do so.

Protect the only Arab spring

Another visit barely a day later by a representation of the socialist group in the European Parliament focused on the strength of institutions, and particularly the transition in Tunisia, which are threatened by insecurity in its eastern border and an acute economic crisis.

The visit, under the activities of the Global Progressive Forum, aimed to convey full support to the parties of the Tunisian left ahead of the crucial municipal elections in March 25, 2018, which after many postponements will be the first since the fall of the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

"We believe that democracy in Tunisia needs a strong progressive block and the intention is to maintain this dialogue between them and we have only encouraged it. We hope that for the next elections there can be some alliances," explained vice-president of the socialist group in the European Parliament, Elena Valenciano.

Her colleague, Enrique Guerrero, also spoke along the same lines, claiming that the aim was "to speak of strategic relations with the EU (...) that involves security, immigration, economic development, common positions in international organizations."

Tunisia is "the most stable country in the region and is in the middle of a minefield. It is very important for the EU to have strong interlocutors and have a focus to establish firm bases of cooperation with this part of the Mediterranean, which is totally strategic for the EU," he affirmed.

However, Tunisia is going through an economic crisis and political instability aggravated by controversial decisions, such as the approval of an economic reconciliation law, which allows all officials who may have illegally amassed wealth through corruption during the rule of Ben Ali to be pardoned and which has led to protests on the streets of the country where the Arab Spring uprisings began.

Weeks earlier, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed had unsettled many sections by including three ministers from the previous regime in his latest government reshuffle.

Khalil Zaouia, Minister of Social Affairs under the first democratic government since 2011 and head of the Ettakatol party, member of the international socialists, thanked the MEPs for their support while underlining the difficulties prevailing in the country.

"The political transition is not totally finished, the establishment of a state of democratic rights is still underway, constitutional institutions have still not been established and the implementation of the constitution is still not complete. All this is compounded by the current economic crisis," said Zaouia, who believed that the credibility of the process depends on municipal elections, as it would be "an important step towards establishing a democracy of proximity."

In the EU there is "great concern for a democracy that is still very fragile and vulnerable, and might still take a step backwards," admitted the EP Delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries head Inés Ayala, who called for elections not to be postponed again.

By Javier Martin

Translated by Shubhomoy Chatterjee



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