Germany will not back a proposal establishing camps in Libya to corral migrants heading for Europe, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Tuesday at the African Union’s headquarters.
His comments indicate a potential abandonment of a deal worked out in February between Italy and Libya’s UN-backed government where the European Union would pay for detention camps in the north African country for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.
Of the roughly 500,000 migrants who have reached Italy in the last three years, the vast majority passed through Libya, but aid groups have expressed misgivings over the building of camps that could also stop refugees fleeing war or persecution.
Addressing a press conference alongside AU Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, Gabriel said migrants lived in “horrible conditions,” at current camps in Libya and building further settlements was not a solution.
“One has to pay heed to the situation on the ground in North Africa,” Gabriel said at the AU’s headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.
“And, fortunately, I’m able to say that this is not a political approach by Germany, nor by the European Union. What we’re trying instead is to stabilise the countries on the continent.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged 27 million euros in aid to stop migrants heading for Europe during a tour of Africa last year, but Germany remains a destination for refugees fleeing war and for migrants seeking better lives.
After trekking through the Sahara desert, many migrants arrive at Libya’s coast where they climb aboard rickety boats and head for Italy.
More than 1,000 have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the UN’s refugee agency.
Aid workers say the camps that have already sprung up in Libya are squalid and under the control of militias that have seized parts of the country since it plunged into chaos after Moamer Kadhafi’s government was ousted in 2011.
Gabriel’s comments were echoed by Faki, a former Chadian foreign minister who took over as AU chair in March.
“It’s impossible in the Sahara and the Sahel, with the huge scope, with the huge territory, it is very difficult to open camps to contain this flow of humanity,” Faki said. “This has never really been a good solution.”