The German Left party says the government is doing a "dirty deal" with Libya: military aid in exchange for stopping migrants on the coast. But it is unclear how war-torn Libya could even do that if it tried.
Germany's opposition Left party has expressed its suspicions of a "dirty deal" after German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen raised the prospect of sending troops to Libya to support a potential unity government in the fractured North African country.
"Germany will not be able to duck its responsibility to make a contribution," von der Leyen told Monday's edition of the "Bild" newspaper. If a unity government were established in Libya, "it will quickly need help to establish justice and order in this huge state and at the same time fight against Islamist terror."
The Left party's foreign policy spokesman Jan van Aken said he suspected a "dirty deal" was being hashed out to support the government in exchange for demanding that it prevent more migrants from reaching Europe via Libya's coast.
Germany is one of a number of states (including Italy, France and Britain) currently discussing Libya in Rome, alongside representatives of the European Union and the United Nations, and van Aken claims that not only is a senior Bundeswehr officer among the German delegation, but the countries are planning to send in ground troops. "The plans for Libya go way beyond training Libyan soldiers," he told the "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung" newspaper. He also described it as a dangerous move to even start training Libyan soldiers, because "at the moment it is not clear who is fighting who."
A bad idea?
The German Defense Ministry has yet to reveal any details of what a military mission in Libya would entail (a DW request for comment on Tuesday was not answered), so, as Mattia Toaldo of the European Council on Foreign Relations points out, it's difficult to assess whose side to take. But providing a new unified Libyan government with a training mission has been on the table in Rome for some time and wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea, he says. "In principle, it's a good thing to train the Libyan security forces," he told DW.
It was, he argued, a better option than airstrikes. "Airstrikes have been proven to be either useless or actually harmful in Libya," he said. "If you kill the leader of a terrorist group, you will start a competition among the second tier, and it's a competition that will take place in terms of cruelty, not through votes, and so unless there are Libyan forces on the ground liberating the country from Daesh ["Islamic State"] I don't see any realistic policy."
The EU is already running "Operation Sophia" to try and thwart human traffickers on the Mediterranean and at this stage it is unclear what else the Libyan government could do to prevent migrants leaving the coast. "One of my assumptions is that, once there is a unified Libyan government - if there ever is - one of the first requests from all European countries will be to upgrade the Sophia mission and allow it to intervene on the ground in Libya," said Toaldo.
Of course, the EU has always tried to pressure Libya - and indeed any country on the Mediterranean - into stemming the flow of migrants. Until now, Libya's solution has been internment camps. Former dictator Muammar Gadhafi declared illegal immigration a criminal offense - a law that is still in effect today. "And so migrants who are found without papers are detained in these detention centers, where major violations of human rights have been reported," said Toaldo. "And usually these detention centers are not managed by any government authority, but by local militias."
Post-Gadhafi, the militias have turned this law into a source of income - abducting migrants from the streets and releasing them only on payment of a ransom. As Toaldo explained, those who are released are then more determined than ever to cross the Mediterranean. "They then have greater impetus because then that's the only way out they have," he said. "If they're released because their family has paid the ransom, either they go to Europe, or they will never be able to pay back the debt the family has made." They may also become a victim of yet another entrepreneur - a human trafficker who pays the ransom for them and sends them to Europe to earn money to pay them back.
"I am afraid that, regardless of what we ask of the Libyan government, West Africans or Sub-Saharan Africans will still pass through Libya to cross the Mediterranean," said Toaldo.
On top of the humanitarian crisis, the political situation in Libya is currently disastrous. Two rival parliaments - based in Tripoli and Tobruk - are effectively at war. Tripoli's general National Congress is controlled by the Islamist Libya Dawn movement, while the Tobruk parliament enjoys international recognition. Complicating that situation, however, there are believed to be around 100 separate militias also operating in the country. "We must work from the premise that all Libya's state structures have collapsed in the last two and a half years," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in December.
On Tuesday, a United-Nations-backed government was unveiled in Tunisia following a year of mediation. It is headed by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, boasts a 32-member cabinet, and is tasked with trying to reconcile the two warring factions. This won't be easy: The Tripoli militias in neighboring Libya have already warned that the Tunis-based cabinet members risk arrest if they even set foot in the country.