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Libyen Tripolis festgenommene Bootsflüchtlinge
Image: Reuters/H. Amara

Refugee repatriation

Nicolas Martin
February 7, 2017

The EU wants better cooperation with North African countries to resolve the migration crisis. Repatriation to Libya is also on the table. But UN special envoy to Libya Martin Kobler says that’s a bad idea.


Deutsche Welle: The EU is discussing what steps it can take to resolve the migration crisis. One option under consideration is sending migrants back to Libya. What's your view on that?

Martin Kobler: Of course, I understand that the Europeans want to stem the flow of migrants from and via Libya, but at this point in time, repatriation to Libya is not a viable solution. There are inhumane things happening here. There are human traffickers at work, there are crimes against humanity. All this has to be stopped. There are international standards, the Geneva Convention has to be respected. And that's why people shouldn't be sent back to face terrible circumstances, such as those in Libyan refugee camps. I think everyone can agree on that.

Could you describe the conditions in the camps?

They're not like the refugee camps in Jordan, with tents from the UNHCR. The camps in Libya are very crowded, and some people have to sleep standing up or on top of one another, or take turns. Around 10 percent of the male refugees are malnourished. Then there's the problem of disease and abuses by the state. People are being beaten and raped, and some have even been shot. It's completely lawless, there's no order. These are not the kind of circumstances under which you can send refugees back to Libya - that would be completely unacceptable.

Again, I understand that the EU and Germany want to limit the number of refugees coming to Europe. But you can't send them back to camps where they will go hungry, be tortured and raped. The fact that neither Germany nor the EU has diplomatic missions in Libya shows how precarious the security situation is there.

What has to happen to create the kind of conditions where refugees could be sent back to Libya?

Martin Kobler UN Sondergesandter Libyen
Martin Kobler is the UN Special Representative for LibyaImage: picture alliance/AA/A. Landoulsi

The solution lies in building up strong state structures. And when Libya is once again a country where there is rule of law and where human rights in the camps can be guaranteed, then we can talk with the government about the possibility of bringing people there.

But in the more immediate term, how can we prevent people using Libya as a starting point for their journey to Europe?

We need to extend the reach of the coast guard. And we have to improve the humanitarian situation in the camps. And thirdly, we need to increase the number of people who would voluntarily return to their home country. Last year, we sent 3,000 people back to their country of origin. The fourth element lies in improving the situation in the countries of origin, because people don't choose to undertake such a long journey if there is no good reason. Usually, they choose this option if they are subject to political persecution or economic hardship. If the Europeans can work with the countries of origin to improve conditions, then fewer people will make the choice to leave.

Libya is considered to be a crisis region. How long will it take before the situation there improves?

I don't want to make any predictions about that. The situation here has stabilized somewhat. We have started a political process, but there are no effective state structures. And it's impossible to say how long it will take before there is a proper government in place. Libya has rarely ever had strong state institutions. This is a country that can look back on two generations of the Gadhafi dictatorship - it's hard to get over something like that overnight. Libyans know that, the international community knows that. But we're working hard so that this country which has the largest oil reserves in Africa, no longer needs the support of the international community, and so that the people of this country can enjoy the prosperity that they deserve.

Martin Kobler previously served as the German ambassador to Egypt and Iraq. Since November 2015, he has been the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). UNSMIL recently published a study on the conditions in camps in Libya.

Interview by: Nicolas Martin

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