Wrecked boats on Lampedusa, Italy. Photo by: Alfredo D'Amato

EU-Libya migration cooperation: Shipwrecked values of humanity

The Danish Refugee Council calls for an urgent change to the EU’s external migration cooperation in the Central Mediterranean and beyond from policies that focus on securitizing borders to policies that prioritize saving lives; provide effective protection and safe migratory pathways to people on the move; and contribute rather than undermine the long-term goal of stability and prosperity in the Mediterranean.


With discussions on external migration cooperation both the Foreign Affairs Council in the beginning of the week, and at the European Council meeting yesterday, migration is on the top of the EU agenda, and continues to be so. At both the upcoming EU-Africa Summit in December as well as the EU-Arab League Summit February next year deepening cooperation with third countries on migration will feature prominently on the agenda, and possibilities for agreements on migration management with North African countries further explored.

The EU’s approach is predominantly based on strengthening external borders with the view to stemming arrivals to the EU’s shores. While the strategy is delivering in terms of reducing migratory flows to Europe, it is a path that is subordinating protection responsibilities and that compromises the EU’s ability to advocate with States to uphold rights and standards. It is a strategy that fails to consider the wider economic, security, and political context of mixed movements towards Europe and ultimately undermines the prospect for longer-term solutions.

DRC Secretary General, Christian Friis Bach says: “The EU need to look beyond the perceived successes of stemming arrivals to the EU’s external borders and be accountable for the devastating protection implications that they are causing, and the responsibility that they bear. We must strongly and consistently argue how the most effective way to address migration challenges is not by containment interventions or security policy but by protecting human rights, ensuring dignity and scaling up our common efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the forthcoming Global Refugee Compact.”

The EU-Libya migration cooperation is a case in point on the devastating consequences for people on the move of a policy approach that prioritize borders over people. In a new Policy Brief released today DRC explores elements of the EU-Libya migration cooperation and broader cooperation on the Central Mediterranean Route and outlines recommendations for a change in course.

The EU’s targeted support and outsourcing of migration management to the Libyan Coast Guard and a continued criminalization of NGOs and private individuals engaging in Search And Rescue (SAR) have led to a rise in the rate of deaths and disappearances of refugees and migrants, increased human rights violations in Libya, and a risky, short-term approach to the conflict, development, and migration nexus in North Africa.

DRC Regional Director North Africa, James Curtis says: “The current response risks exposing people on the move to violations of their rights and gravely threatens their safety. We know that refugees and migrants intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard are placed in detention centres in egregious and inhumane conditions for indefinite periods of time. With the knowledge of what awaits refugees and migrants who are returned to Libya, the policy of enabling the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept refugees and migrants at sea becomes indefensible.”

While rights violations and abuse of refugees and migrants in Libya are increasingly evidenced it has not led to a change of course in the EU-Libya migration cooperation. On the contrary, in the absence of agreement on the reform of the Common European Asylum system, what unifies the EU Member States is a continued focus on reducing arrivals to the EU’s shores – seemingly regardless of the costs. Despite the fragile and unstable situation and the well-established grim reality that refugees and migrants are faced with when intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, Libya remains at the center of EU’s externalization efforts.

DRC urges the EU to stop the outsourcing of Search And Rescue in the Mediterranean, and calls for a re-assessment and for caution regarding the current strategy of consolidating and expanding collaboration with North African countries on migration and disembarkation.

Read full policy brief here