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Germany's Gabriel makes surprise visit to Libya

June 8, 2017

The German foreign minister has announced extra aid to improve conditions at refugee camps. He warned of growing instability and urged warring parties to overcome their differences and support the UN-backed government.

Germany's foreign minister in Libya
Image: Imago/photothek/F. Gärtner

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Wednesday made a surprise visit to Libya to announce a new tranche of aid to the conflict-ridden country.

Berlin will provide 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) to Libyan authorities to improve conditions at refugee camps in the North African country, Gabriel said. The money is expected to complement relief funds provided by Germany aimed at easing Europe's migration crisis.

Read more: Libya must release refugees held in detention centers, says UNHCR chief

"It is, therefore, our goal, together with the Libyans, to resist the instability that has arisen from the absence of established structures," Gabriel said. "Concrete progress is urgently needed."

Deadly journey

Since the closure of the so-called Balkan route at the beginning of 2016, more people have tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe, often leaving from Libya.

Read more: What you need to know about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea

Nearly 70,000 migrants, many of them fleeing conflict and extreme poverty in the Middle East and Africa, have made the perilous journey so far this year, of which 80 percent arrived in Italy, according to data provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

European authorities have attempted to impede irregular migration to the bloc by warning would-be migrants about the dangers of the route across the Mediterranean. More than 1,600 migrants have died in 2017 attempting the voyage, IOM reported.

Calls to overcome rivalry

Gabriel called on rival Libyan authorities to overcome their differences through dialogue. Libya has three rival governments, of which only one is recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate government.

Germany's Gabriel said conflicting parties should abide by UN-brokered agreements signed in 2015, which effectively established the Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Libya plunged into chaos in 2011, when anti-government protesters demanded dictator Moammar Gadhafi to step down, prompting a brutal crackdown by regime forces. NATO responded by leading an operation against the government.

Read more: 'Terrorist groups' remain a challenge across Africa, says AFRICOM

Within two weeks of Gadhafi's assassination at the hands of Libyan rebels, NATO ended its intervention.

Since then, warring parties have attempted to claim power in the North African country, leading to instability and the eventual rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS) militant group in 2014.

ls/sms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)