Migrants gather at the Tripoli branch of the Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority. Photograph: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images
- As many as one million migrants are already on the way to Libya and Europe from countries across Africa, the former head of the British embassy in Benghazi has warned.
- The warning by Joe Walker-Cousins, head of the UK’s Libya mission between 2012 and 2014 comes as European governments struggle to find a response to the flow of migrants from the Mediterranean, and the appalling conditions in detention camps run by traffickers or the Libyan government.More than 590 migrants have drowned on the central Mediterranean route in the first three months of this year, and the overall number reaching Italy from Libyahas risen. The International Organisation for Migration estimates 21,900 refugees reached Italy in the first three months of this year, up from 14,500 last year.A total of 181,000 refugees reached Italy from Libya last year, and with little sign of an effective unity government being formed in Libya to combat the militia-organised trafficking, mainstream European politicians are facing a massive challenge.Walker-Cousins said the EU’s efforts to train a Libyan coast guard operating in inland waters was “too little and too late along the pipeline”. He said: “My informants in the area tell me there are potentially one million migrants, if not more, already coming up through the pipeline from central Africa and the Horn of Africa.”
Last year 179,000 of the 181,000 African refugees in Italy were picked up outside Libyan coastal waters either by the Italian navy, the EU border agency Frontex or by NGOs.
He said it was better to take “capillary action” 1,400 km to the south on Libya’s porous land borders rather than on the coast – which he described as “a stone’s throw from their final destination of Europe.”
In a severe blow to Rome, the Libyan supreme court last week rejected an Italian-Libyan memorandum of understanding signed in February that was intended to empower Italy to train the Libyan coast guard to take a more active role by boarding ships and sending back refugees spotted in Libyan coastal waters.
The Libyan court ruling said the UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) did not have the legal authority to sign the memorandum with Italy since it has not been recognised in Libya as a legitimate government. The GNA, theoretically in power in the west of Libya for a year, has not been able to win the support of the Libyan parliament the H