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Libya rejects EU plan for asylum processing centres

Holding centres for migrants to be further discussed in coming weeks by European Commission

By AFP - Jul 21,2018 - Last updated at Jul 21,2018

Josepha, a 40-year-old woman from Cameroon who was rescued at sea, lies on a stretcher on board the Proativa Open Arms boat before disembarking in Palma de Majorca on Saturday. Two vessels of Spanish NGO Proativa Open Arms involved in rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean arrived in the Spanish port of Palma carrying a woman found drifting on a deflated dinghy off Libya as well as the bodies of a boy and another woman (AFP photo)

BERLIN — Libya's prime minister said he would not allow the EU to set up asylum processing centres in his country, in a new setback for European leaders seeking to curb new migrant arrivals.

"We are strictly against Europe officially placing illegal migrants who are no longer wanted in the EU in our country," Fayez Al Sarraj said in an interview with German daily Bild. 

"We also won't agree on any deals with EU money about taking in more illegal migrants," he vowed, adding that European leaders should instead put pressure on migrants' origin countries to stop them embarking on their journey in the first place.

During a fractious summit in June, EU leaders agreed to set up "disembarkation platforms" outside the bloc to process migrants.

Such centres would operate in cooperation with the UN refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration.

But no country has so far offered to host a reception centre, where authorities would distinguish between irregular migrants and asylum seekers admissible into the EU.

Morocco has already given a flat no to the plan, while Tunisia previously rejected it.

Albania has also ruled itself out with Prime Minister Edi Rama saying that such centres mean "dumping desperate people somewhere like toxic waste that no one wants".

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has written to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying his country would no longer take in migrants plucked from the Mediterranean until other member states accepted some of them.

Juncker wrote back to Conte saying "these ad hoc solutions will not be feasible in the long term", according to a copy of a letter seen by AFP.

But Juncker agreed to try and identify nations that would shelter rescued migrants until a definitive framework was agreed upon as to who would take charge of them.

June was the deadliest month in the Mediterranean in recent years with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reporting some 564 deaths or disappearances, despite the fact that overall departures have dropped sharply since the summer of 2017. Most of the migrants are from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Meanwhile, Sarraj also threw out claims from Spanish rescue group Proactiva Open Arms that the Libyan coastguard saved other migrants on board a dinghy but not two women and a little boy.

The child and one of the women were found dead when Spanish rescuers arrived, but the other woman has been saved.

"These are outrageous accusations, and they are not true. Our coastguards have already clarified this," said Sarraj, who heads the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli.

"Every day, we save hundreds of people on the coast of Libya. Our ships are active non-stop," he said, stressing that Tripoli needs more technical and financial aid to improve its rescue missions.

Under a controversial deal with the EU, Libyan coastguards intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. But the UN has slammed the policy as "inhuman", noting that the migrants are simply brought back to "horrific" detention centres in Libya.

The European Court of Human Rights also opposes the repatriation of migrants to Libya on the ground that they could face rights abuse.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, will discuss in the coming weeks proposals for controlled holding centres for migrants in member states.

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