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Foreign Minister Gabriel plays down Libya as safe place to return refugees

At the EU foreign ministers meeting, Germany's Sigmar Gabriel played down proposals to return migrants to Libya. Ministers are pushing the Libyan government to do more to halt an influx of refugees to Europe.

Watch video 01:56

Migration: EU urges action from Libya

Gabriel, who is Germany's Foreign Minister and also Vice Chancellor, was skeptical about deporting migrants from Italy, where over the past year most migrants have landed in Europe, back to Libya because of the country's chaotic political situation.

"We believe Libya is a very unstable place," he told reporters on Monday while in Brussels for talks with his European counterparts, to implement a deal thrashed out last week by EU leaders in Malta.

Gabriel's comments contradicted those made by another senior member of his Social Democrats (SPD), Thomas Oppermann, who heads the party's parliamentary group.

Oppermann had argued in the Sunday edition of the German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," that if migrants were returned to Libya, it would help curb human trafficking.

Ten-point plan

On Friday, EU states agreed a 10-point program to assist Libya to reduce the migrant flow, including funding and training for the Libyan coastguard.

Leaders also vowed to help set up safe refugee camps in the North African country, after human rights groups criticized existing camps for their inhumane conditions.

The bloc will also increase support for those who voluntarily return home from Libya, an EU statement said.

Belgien Sigmar Gabriel und Jean-Marc Ayrault in Brüssel (picture-alliance/T. Monasse)

Germany Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel met his EU counterparts for the first time since taking up the job last month

Ministers also urged Libyan authorities to step up efforts to protect migrants, especially those held in detention centers.

They condemned reports of migrant abuse by people smugglers, and called "on all parties to ensure unhindered and secure access to the centers for aid workers."

'Send them back'

Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said the bloc needed to learn from the Australian example, which until recently turned away refugees arriving by boat.

The "most important rule" had to be that if anyone set off illegally towards the EU, they would be sent back at the bloc's external borders.

Some 180,000 refugees, most of them from Libya, landed in Italy last year.

Over the weekend, some 1,500 migrants were rescued after their rickety boats got into trouble, the Italian coastguard said.

Italian and Spanish rescue teams launched nine different operations to pick up the migrants from vessels in the central Mediterranean off Libya.

Last week, Libya said it had intercepted more than 1,100 migrants on inflatable and wooden boats off its coast.

Watch video 01:31

EU foreign ministers discuss migrant plan

mm/jm (AFP, AP, dpa)

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