A deal between Italy and Libya to hold migrants in camps in the north African country ignores “catastrophic conditions” in Libya and would not curb migration, Germany’s foreign minister said on Tuesday, contradicting Berlin’s previous support for the plan.
“The camps existing on the ground already show horrible and catastrophic conditions. The idea to set up camps … would be an utter disregard of circumstances for the people,” Sigmar Gabriel, who is also Germany’s Vice Chancellor, told reporters.
Italy signed a deal with the U.N.-backed Libyan government in Tripoli in February that also promised training, equipment and money to fight human traffickers – an agreement initially endorsed by both the European Union and Germany.
But the move has been criticised by humanitarian groups and the United Nations, which says migrants suffer arbitrary detention, forced labour, rape and torture. Last month, Pope Francis said the holding centres had become “concentration camps”.
Libya is controlled by a patchwork of armed groups. They have built local fiefdoms that have vied for power since Libya’s 2011 uprising, and a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli is struggling to assert its control, especially over rival factions in the east.
Gabriel, who was speaking in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa after a meeting with African Union officials, said parallels should not be drawn with a deal between the EU and Turkey last year, because Ankara had granted access to its camps to U.N. human rights experts.
“All of that does not apply to Libya. Fortunately I am able to say that this is not a political approach by Germany nor the European Union,” he said.
Last year, the EU and Turkey reached a deal to send back irregular migrants from the Greek Aegean islands to Turkey in exchange for political and financial rewards for Ankara.
The agreement largely shut down the migrants’ sea route to Greece, turning the boat crossing from Libya to Italy into the most viable option for those seeking to get to Europe.
Gabriel said Germany and the EU now favoured helping weaker states overcome instability when tackling migration from Africa, but added such efforts would take time.
“What we are trying instead is to help stabilise the countries on the continent. But that is difficult,” he said.
“We will have to show that staying power, stamina and patience. This is in the interest of the Africans but also in the interest of Europeans.”
According to the International Organisation for Migration, 44,229 migrants have reached Europe so far this year, of whom more than four-fifths landed in Italy, and 1,089 have been reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean.