The bodies of 41 presumed migrants were found washed up on a Libyan beach on Sunday in another tragic reminder that a refugee crisis remains unresolved. DW talks to the UN's senior diplomat in Libya, Martin Kobler.
German career diplomat Martin Kobler, 63, has been head of the UN Suport Mission in Libya since November 2015. He was head of the MONUSCO stabilization mission in Democratic Republic of Congo and has also served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, at the beginning of May, you said that at least 100,000 refugees would be leaving Libya for the EU in 2016. Does that figure of 100,000 still stand or do you see the need to revise it up or down?
Well, as of now, we have 77,000 refugees who left Libya this year and it is not yet the end of the season. We are now in mid-July and the stream of refugees continues. We have on our list here 235,000 refugees from African countries in Libya. I expect that this will continue and there is no end in sight.
Where are these refugees coming from? Has there been any change recently in the countries of origin?
I was in a refugee camp the other day in Tripoli where refugees are kept before being sent back to their home countries. By the way, they all want to go back. My colleagues from UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] are in the camp, we are instrumental in transporting them back to their countries. They came from all over [Africa]. They came from Senegal, Gambia, but also as far away as Somalia and Eritrea crossing the whole of Libya, in summertime, from east to west. They are traumatized; they have lost their kin. I heard stories from a Senegalese man who lost his whole family: two young children and his wife who were bumped off the truck in the middle of the desert. These people are traumatized, they would like to go back to their countries. Others would like to continue on their way to Europe where they see prospects for the future.
What is your opinion of Operation Sophia in which EU naval vessel intercept people smuggling boats in the Mediterranean. Is it the right response under the circumstances?
Well, it's very important that human trafficking is combated. This is, of course, best done on land and by restitution of state authority. This is why we [the UN] and the Europeans are working on it. Refugees who are intercepted outside the 12 mile zone cannot be sent back. Operation Sophia is operating outside the 12 mile zone, so they cannot intercept refugees and send them back. They have to take them on board their boats and then bring them to Lampedusa or somewhere else in Europe. The training of coastguards is also part of Operation Sophia. This is now getting underway in order to enable the Libyan coastguard to keep people in Libya. But there is also a need for programs so there is, first of all, a good situation in the camps. The situation in the camp I visited was substandard, really substandard, and, of course, one has to work with the countries of origin where people are leaving because of economic despair.
Libya has been in chaos since the death of Muammar Gadaffi in 2011. For the last two months there has been fierce fighting between pro-government forces and Islamic State jihadists in Sirte in central Libya. As the senior UN diplomat in the country, how do you think peace could be restored ?
There was 42 years of Gadaffi dictatorship and then after the intervention the country slipped into chaos. What we are trying to do with the Libyan Political Agreement is to try and put the country together again. Now this can't be done overnight but on the positive side, we have a Presidential Council, a government, which is starting to work. The central bank is under the control of the government, the national oil companies are now united again. Everybody is trying to increase the oil exports in order to increase revenue for the central bank. Ministers are working in the ministries in Tripoli, but I agree that this is not nearly enough to solve the huge problems in the country. The political problems, the security problems; there is still no united army. There has be a reunited army, a restitution of state in every square inch of Libya. Only then can the task be accomplished and there is still a long way to go.
German diplomat Martin Kobler is Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya.
Interview: Mark Caldwell