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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Libyan GNC government warns EU that it could send a flood of refugees if not recognized

The General National Congress(GNC) Libyan government based in Tripoli issued a veiled threat to the EU that if it was not recognized by the EU then it could send "hundreds of thousands" more migrants to Europe.
The GNC government rules much of western Libya and is a rival to the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) based in Tobruk. The HoR rules most of eastern Libya. Much of the south is de facto ruled by tribal groups and on the coast there is a pocket of Islamic State territory in the city of Sirte and surrounding area. In spite of the constant propaganda about the significance of the Islamic State in Libya, IS has lost control of its original base in the eastern city of Derna to rival Islamist militias. There are also a few militia groups in western Libya loyal to the HoR commander of the armed forces, Khalifa Haftar, including the Tribes Army that is accused by the GNC of shooting down a helicopter near Tripoli recently killing several important GNC military commanders.
Jamal Zubia, the GNC media spokesperson, told the Telegraph that the GNC was spending millions of pounds each year preventing migrants from crossing the Mediterranean using detention centres and also repatriating many. Zubia said: "To be honest, I have advised my government many times already that we should hire boats and send them to Europe. We are protecting the gates of Europe, yet Europe does not recognise us and does not want to recognise us. So why should we stop the migrants here?"
Last year alone, 170,000 refugees are estimated to have arrived in Italy from Libya. However, many may come through coastal areas not controlled by the GNC. All of eastern Libya is under control of the HoR and the coastal area around Sirte is controlled by the Islamic State. The HoR has complained that as part of its operations to control migration the Italian navy has violated its coastal waters. This year the numbers coming from Libya are down to 130,000 so far, as more come through Turkey and the Aegean.
The GNC government does not turn a blind eye to people smuggling. The Department for Combating Illegal Immigration employs about 8,000 people and detains large groups of migrants, often in miserable conditions. The GNC works as well with the International Organisation for Migration on voluntary repatriation. Coastal ports often run coastguard patrols. The sheer numbers, however, make it impossible for authorities with limited resources to adequately deal with the problem.
Zubia's threat is remarkable considering the fact that the international community is pressing for the formation of a unified Government of National Accord(GNA). The GNA would create one single government to deal with the problem and with EU authorities working to control the refugee crisis. Zubia did however assure the EU that the GNC had no immediate plans to carry out his threat. The threat might be intended to ensure that Bernardino Leon who is leading the UN dialogue process will recognize GNC concerns about the existing draft of the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA). The GNC had demanded amendments to the draft but Leon said this was not possible. Neither parliament has so far approved the draft of the LPA. Indeed, both parties have issued statements that appear to reject it but have not voted on the issue. Zubia may also be using the threat as a means to getting more aid from the EU to help deal with the migrant problem within the GNC area of control.
Leon was supposed to have held further dialogue talks last week but no formal talks were held apparently. He spent considerable time in Cairo meeting with Egyptian officials, as did the president of the HoR. There was also a meeting of foreign ministers of Egypt, Algeria, and Italy in Algiers to promote the formation of a unity government.
The UN is pushing for the two rivals to agree on a unity government. Leon has again amended his draft document after insisting it could not be amended. After each amendment one side or both have objected. This time he has expanded the presidential council of the GNA from six to nine. It remains to be seen if this will convince either parliament to agree to the unity government. Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the HoR armed forces, has rejected the former draft. Unless it is changed so that he remains head of the armed forces he is unlikely to accept any new agreement. Any agreement that leaves Haftar in place will be rejected by the GNC and many others also. The Libya Dawn militia associated with the GNC also rejected the draft. Without any military agreement any political pact will be unenforceable.
Members of the two rival parliaments are to meet on Tuesday to consider the new proposals. While the UN and the international community claim that the decision is up to Libyans the facts show exactly the opposite. The international community and the UN use the carrot of increased aid and security help for agreeing to the LPA and the stick of sanctions to those who do not. Recent meetings show concern about Egypt's role in supporting Haftar and the HoR, while instead of promised dialogue talks we have a meeting of foreign ministers. The rivals are not talking with each other and Libyan's are left to carry out what foreign interests want. The foreign interests also are planning intervention again once the GNA is formed.


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