Posts Tagged ‘Mediterranean’

In Libya, Islamic State Seeks Revival in Gateway to Europe

September 18, 2017

Small cells of fighters are operating in the country a year after the group lost its main Libyan stronghold

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Libyans attended a funeral west of Tripoli last month for people killed in an attack the previous day that was claimed by Islamic State.Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Image

Islamic State has formed a number of clandestine cells in Libya a year after losing its main stronghold in the chaotic North African country, part of the militant group’s efforts to regroup on Europe’s doorstep.

The small cells, some comprised of up to several dozen fighters, have set up new bases outside Libyan towns in the past several months and started making money by hijacking commercial trucks and extorting migrant smuggling rings, according to Libyan and European security officials.

Islamic State has also told fighters to go to Libya from Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition is pushing the terror group from its de facto capital of Raqqa, according to a defector and security officials.

“They consider Libya to be the main entrance to Europe,” said Abu Baara al-Ansari, a Syrian who defected from Islamic State in June.

Mr. al-Ansari said he worked in Raqqa for Islamic State in the office that tracked visitors to the group’s territory. He is now in Turkey and was interviewed via the Telegram messaging system.

The group’s efforts to stage a comeback in Libya after losing control of the coastal city of Sirte last year have sparked concern among European officials. Attackers who traveled from Syria to Europe have taken part in a number of deadly terrorist attacks in recent years, including in Paris and Brussels.

A resurgent Islamic State “is definitely becoming a problem in Libya,” a European security official said. The terror group can raise revenue in Libya by tapping lucrative rackets and take advantage of weapon stockpiles in a country that is both vast and politically unstable, he said.

Members of Libya’s Presidential Council, which presides over the Tripoli government, didn’t respond to requests for comment about Islamic State’s activities in the country.

Islamic State said two years ago that it planned to infiltrate migrant groups and carry out attacks in Europe. Tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya and arrived in Italy this year.

Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent, blew himself up outside a concert in Manchester in May, killing 22 people. Abedi had recently returned from a trip to Libya, and European security officials say the type of bomb he used indicates he may have been trained by Islamic State fighters there.

Forces allied with the U.N.-backed government in Libya fought Islamic State fighters in the coastal city of Sirte last year.Photo: Goran Tomasevic/REUTERS

Since the death of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, warring factions have carved Libya into fiefs and fought over its oil fields, leaving the economy in tatters.

“Daesh is exploiting the security vacuum,” said an intelligence officer from the city of Misrata who works with forces loyal to Tripoli, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Militias from Misrata—who support the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord in the capital, Tripoli—led the successful campaign to oust Islamic State from Sirte.

An estimate by the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees American military operations on the continent, indicates there are only 500 Islamic State members active in Libya now. That is down from a peak of about 3,000 fighters when the group held Sirte in 2016.

But other officials said it is difficult to know how many Islamic State fighters are currently in Libya. And they say the group’s ability to operate relatively unhindered around the country raises concerns.


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Since driving Islamic State out of Sirte, the U.S. has seen “a marked decrease” in the number of foreign fighters traveling to or from the conflict in Libya, according to a U.S. State Department official.

European security officials and the Islamic State defector say the group’s fighters—including Syrians and Iraqis, as well as Libyans—have been trying to enter Libya in hopes of reaching Europe to launch attacks.

Islamic State members have in the past flown from Turkey to Sudan before going overland to Libya, according to European security officials. Meanwhile, Libyan forces in the south are monitoring a group of Islamic State recruits who made their way to Sudan from Syria and are trying to cross into Libya, according to a security official from the area with forces loyal to Tripoli.

Sudan is aware some fighters have taken advantage of its porous western border to infiltrate Libya, according to Rabie Abdelaty, who heads the political bureau at Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party. He says the government has deployed forces to stem the infiltration and to crack down on cross-border crime.

Libyans were among those who trained at Islamic State’s weapons lab in Raqqa, according to another Islamic State defector. Some of the devices were intended both for battlefield use and for carrying out attacks in Europe, said the defector, who said that he was involved in their design and that he left the group in 2016. Components are cheap and easy to get, and Islamic State videos show how to assemble them, he added.

Forces allied with the U.N.-backed government patrolled last month on the outskirts of Sirte.Photo: ismail zitouny/Reuters

In Libya, a rival government operates in the east of the country, where a group allied with Islamic State was ousted earlier this year from the city of Benghazi. In late May, around the time of the ouster, two members of the allied group were dispatched by Islamic State from Benghazi to go to Istanbul, according to a third person who said he had defected from Islamic State and who said he remains in contact with the group in Raqqa.

They were directed to make their way from Istanbul to Athens and to wait for orders about carrying out an attack in Europe, the defector said. A European security official said last month the movements of the two men were being monitored.

Islamic State fighters who escaped Sirte fled to other parts of Libya such as Bani Walid, west of Sirte. The fighters remained hidden in the surrounding valleys for months, but now have started to “set up checkpoints at times and hijack trucks and any goods in them,” said the intelligence officer from Misrata.

Other fighters escaped to the southwestern town of Ghat, near the Algerian border. The group has since expanded its presence in that part of the country to the desert oasis of Ubari, with fighters holding regular meetings in the town and moving freely in the vicinity of Libya’s largest oil field, according to the security official from southern Libya.

In May, Islamic State seized three fuel trucks en route to Jufra, a district between Sirte and Ubari, according to an Aug. 22 report from the U.N. Security Council.

Islamic State has forged business ties in the area with a local Islamist warlord who specializes in fuel smuggling, according to a European security official.

Islamic State also has a presence in other Libyan cities and towns, and groups that can range from five to 50 fighters roam outside urban areas, the intelligence officer from Misrata said. Those groups often travel in a small number of cars to try to avoid becoming a target, he said.

In January, the U.S. launched airstrikes on Islamic State training camps southwest of Sirte and other targets in Libya, killing dozens of militants, the Pentagon said.

—Ben Kesling, Nicholas Bariyo, Nour Malas, Nour Alakraa and Jenny Gross contributed to this article.

Write to Benoit Faucon at
Migrants trying to reach a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea, north of Sabratha, Libya, in July.Credit Santi Palacios/Associated Press

CAIRO — As they scrambled to curb the flow of migrants, Europe’s leaders wrestled with a vexing question: How to stop the ruthless Libyan militias that control the human-trafficking trade from dispatching countless boats across the Mediterranean?

Now Italy, after striking out on its own, appears to have found a solution — one that, though wildly successful for the moment, is provoking questions about its methods and the humanitarian costs.

Arrivals of migrants in Italy have plunged in recent months. In August alone, they fell 85 percent, leading some to charge that Italy was paying off Libya’s most rapacious warlords at the risk of further destabilizing the fractured North African country, while condemning migrants to misery.

Human rights activists liken the grimy conditions at militant-run detention centers inside Libya to concentration camps, while the top United Nations human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, recently warned that the Italian-led tactics were “very thin on the protection of the human rights of migrants inside Libya and on the boats.”

Italian ministers deny giving even a single euro to Libya’s armed militias. Instead, they attribute their success to painstaking diplomacy and other inducements, like the possibility of rejoining a regularly paid, national army.

“We approached the issue slowly, slowly, Italian style,” Mario Giro, deputy foreign minister, said in an interview. “We spoke to everyone.”

Many are skeptical: Money and the threat of brute force are the usual considerations when it comes to persuading the fractious militias that hold sway across Libya. But if Italy’s aggressive new approach to migration includes dealing with unsavory strongmen, it would not be the first time.

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EU Border Agency Chief Sees Spike in Spain Migrant Arrivals

September 11, 2017

BRUSSELS — The head of the European Union’s border agency says the number of migrants arriving in Europe through Spain has more than doubled this year.

Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri said Monday that “we have registered almost 14,000 arrivals in Spain, arriving from Morocco, from the western part of the Maghreb.”

Leggeri said it “means that the figures were multiplied by more than 2.5 this year” compared to the same January-August period last year. He said most migrants were Moroccan nationals.

He says arrivals to Europe from Libya through the central Mediterranean have dropped but could he not say whether the rise in Spain was due to tougher migrant controls around Libya. He says, as of now, “Frontex has no indication of such displacement.”

The power of China’s checkbook diplomacy

September 10, 2017

There are many ways a government can assert its interests on the international stage. Some use military muscle. Others use subversion or bluster. In Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in Europe, China is using investment to get what it wants from countries and governments in need.

The most obvious examples are in Asia. Pakistan’s relations with the United States have deteriorated sharply in recent years for many reasons, and President Donald Trump’s warmer ties with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have given Pakistan’s government and military good reason to invest more deeply in strong relations with China. In turn, Beijing’s investment in Pakistan has gathered momentum. An infrastructure development project, the US$55 billion (S$73.6 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of China’s broader One Belt, One Road Initiative, is generating growth and creating much-needed jobs in Pakistan. In return, China is developing the port of Gwadar, which will provide China a stronger presence in the Indian Ocean.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte does not like criticism from the US and Europe, and Beijing has pledged to help him improve his country’s underdeveloped infrastructure. So far, China hasn’t delivered much, but the promise alone has persuaded the Philippine President not to push hard against China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. He has also added the Philippines’ voice to a more pro-China stance from the 10-member Asean. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has also added to Asean’s tilt towards China and likewise backed off rival claims in the South China Sea because his country also needs investment in roads, bridges and especially rail lines – and because the scandal involving misappropriation of funds from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a sovereign wealth fund, has left Mr Najib and his government short of cash.

China’s deep pockets have long bought influence in Africa, where President Xi Jinping has pledged billions more in investment in coming years. China is also amplifying its voice across Africa via StarTimes, a state-backed, though privately owned, Chinese media and telecoms firm that beams Chinese content – and a Chinese worldview – via subsidiaries in 30 African countries into African households.

As a member of the Brics group since 2010, South Africa has given China a gateway into the Southern African Development Community, which provides access to natural resources that support China’s growth and boosts its political influence across the region. China is South Africa’s largest trade partner, and the two countries signed commercial deals in 2015 worth US$6.5 billion. South Africa’s government has rewarded China’s willingness to invest by denying Tibet’s Dalai Lama, who is persona non grata in China, entry into South Africa on three separate occasions since 2009, though South African officials deny this.

Chinese trucks at Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Pakistan. Beijing’s investments in the South Asian nation has grown, with China developing the port and the $73.6 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. PHOTO: DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was one of just two African leaders offered a seat at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing earlier this year, and Kenya can expect to be a major recipient of Chinese infrastructure investment as part of the maritime route of the One Belt, One Road project. China has already built a high-speed rail connection between the Kenyan cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, and Kenya’s government has expressed thanks with support for China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and for Beijing’s bid to persuade the International Monetary Fund to add China’s currency to its Special Drawing Rights basket.

China has also spent considerable time and money building its influence in Latin America. China has become the largest export market for Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Peru, and Uruguay. But this is no longer simply a story of China buying commodities. These same countries, plus Bolivia, now import more from China than from anywhere else. Panama has also become part of the story, in part because China’s investment in the expansion of the Panama Canal has allowed Chinese mega-freighters to reach the Atlantic and eastern seaboard of the US. Earlier this year, Panama announced it would no longer recognise Taiwan, providing China with another diplomatic victory.

Beijing has even extended this strategy into Europe, where leaders still act as though the world is hoping to follow their lead. The most recent Chinese investment is in cash-strapped Greece, a country fed up with imposed austerity and bitter criticism from the European Union. Greece has won Chinese investment through the One Belt, One Road project. In particular, a Chinese state-owned firm now operates the Greek commercial port at Piraeus, the busiest in the Mediterranean. Earlier this year, Greece blocked an EU statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council that criticised Mr Xi’s crackdown on domestic political dissent and joined Hungary to support China’s South China Sea territorial claims at The Hague.

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A senior Greek official last month said: “While the Europeans are acting towards Greece like mediaeval leeches, the Chinese keep bringing money.”

There is a lesson here for the US, the EU and any other international player that would condition badly needed investment on domestic political behaviour. Mr Trump boasts of American power, but he has made clear he has no interest in writing large cheques. Now look at China from the recipient’s point of view. China offers good deals for governments and countries that need them – and it does not demand risk and sacrifice in return.

The only question about this strategy’s future is where it will succeed next.

The writer is the president of Eurasia Group and author of Superpower: Three Choices For America’s Role In The World.



Shiite corridor from Tehran to Damascus)

 (John Bolton)

(Includes John Bolton’s Plan for Iran and the Nuclear Deal)

Cyprus rescues 305 Syrian refugees in two boats

September 10, 2017


© AFP/File | A Syrian refugee walks between tents at a reception centre in Kokkinotrimithia outide the Cypriot capital Nicosia on March 7, 2017

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriot authorities brought ashore more than 300 Syrian refugees early on Sunday after spotting two boats in open water off the northwest coast of the Mediterranean island, police said.It was one of the largest waves of migrants to be received by Cypriot authorities in a single day since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011.

The 305 migrants, who included 30 women and 73 children, said they had set off from the Turkish port of Mersin and paid up to $2,000 (1,600 euros) each for the crossing.

Police arrested a 36-year-old man on suspicion of piloting one of the boats. He was expected to appear before a court in the resort town of Paphos later on Sunday.

Police said the migrants were in good health and would be transported to a reception centre outside the capital Nicosia. A woman and her 10-month-old baby were taken to hospital as a precaution.

Cyprus, an EU member state located 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Syria’s Mediterranean coast, has not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey and Greece.

Since September 2014, however, more than a dozen migrant boats have reached the island, bringing in nearly 1,500 migrants including the latest arrivals.

Some were trying to join relatives on the island while others were seeking refuge in Europe.

Greek Authorities Pick Up 210 Migrants Off Crete and Lesbos

September 5, 2017

ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities say that 103 migrants picked up off a crippled yacht are being taken to port on the southern island of Crete.

A coast guard statement says the vessel was located by a merchant ship east of Crete early Tuesday, after authorities received a distress call by phone.

The yacht’s point of departure and destination were unknown.

On Monday, the coast guard said it rescued another 107 refugees or migrants on small boats, in two incidents off the eastern island of Lesbos.

According to the United Nations, 15,230 refugees or migrants have reached Greece by sea this year — a fraction of the arrivals in 2015.

Flows have been slashed by last year’s Balkan border closures and deal between the European Union and Turkey on restricting illegal migration.

Italy Denies Supporting Libyan Traffickers to Stop Migrants

August 30, 2017

ROME — Italy denied on Wednesday that it supported a deal to pay armed groups implicated in human trafficking to prevent migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Libya’s U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, as part of a deal backed by Italy, was paying militias and giving them equipment and boats to prevent migrant vessels setting off.

“The foreign ministry firmly denies that there is an agreement between Libyan traffickers and the Italian government,” an official from the Italian ministry’s press office said.

“The Italian government does not deal with traffickers”, the official added.

A new force in the Libyan coastal town of Sabratha is preventing people leaving, often by locking them up, sources in the area have told Reuters, prompting a sudden drop in departures at what is usually the busiest time of year for migration.

Arrivals from North Africa dropped by more than 50 percent in July and more than 80 percent so far in August. Some 600,000 have made it to southern Italy by sea since 2014.

© AFP | New figures have revealed a sharp drop in the number of Migrants arriving in Italy from Libya

Progress in Libya is likely to be fragile, as two governments are vying for power, and local militias are battling over territory and smuggling profits.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Europeans, Africans Agree Renewed Push to Tackle Migrant Crisis — Message seems to be “you just can’t go to where the money is.” — African leaders “will have to govern and do most of the work”

August 29, 2017

PARIS — Europe’s “big four” continental powers and three African states agreed a plan on Monday to tackle illegal human trafficking and support nations struggling to contain the flow of people across the desert and Mediterranean sea.

The 28-nation European Union has long struggled to reach a coherent answer to the influx of migrants fleeing war, poverty and political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, and the crisis is testing cooperation between member states.

After hosting the leaders of Germany, Italy, Spain, Chad, Niger and Libya, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was time for greater coordination.

“We must all act together – from the source countries to Europe and passing by the transit countries, especially Libya – to be efficient,” he told reporters. “It’s a challenge as much for the EU as for the African Union.”

Leaders at the Paris summit will focus on the central Mediterranean route [Thibault Camus/Reuters]

While the meeting was sparse on concrete details, the leaders agreed on the principle of setting up a mechanism to identify legitimate migrants who are fleeing war and persecution, and to use the United Nations to register them in Niger and Chad so as to prevent them being exploited by traffickers.

“At the core of it, it’s all about fighting illegal migration,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference.

She said that Berlin was willing to increase its efforts.

“If we want to stop human traffickers, then this can only be achieved through development aid,” she said.

The migrant crisis has put Paris and Rome at odds. Italy has accused France and other EU states of not sharing the migrant burden and has also asked the EU Commission for more budget flexibility to help it tackle the crisis.

Nearly 120,000 migrants, including refugees, have entered Europe by sea so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than 2,400 have drowned while making the dangerous journey, often without enough food or water in overcrowded dinghies run by people smugglers.

“We are all committed to reducing the damage, the death of Africans in the desert, the death of Africans crossing the Mediterranean,” Chad President Idriss Deby said.

“The fundamental problem will always remain development. We need resources,” he said.

The informal meeting did not outline any new specific financing and the leaders repeated that stabilising chaotic Libya, where thousands of migrants end up before embarking on a perilous Mediterranean sea journey to Europe, would be key to any long-term solution.

(Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris, Steve Scherer, Gareth Jones and Massimiliano Di Giorgio in Rome, Sarah White in Madrid, Paul Carrell and Michael Nienaber in Berlin; Editing by Richard Lough and Andrew Bolton)


European Leaders Look to Africa to Stem Migration

PARIS — Measures intended to stop migrants from trying to cross the Mediterranean were at the center of discussions among four European leaders who met in Paris with the leaders of three African countries on Monday.

The meeting, billed as a mini-summit, brought together the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain as well as Chad and Niger and one of Libya’s leaders.

Chad and Niger are transit countries for people fleeing war or poverty, while Libya is a departure point for crossing the Mediterranean and a center for traffickers who promise to get people to Europe, but often take their money and set them adrift in crowded boats that sink or capsize. More than 2,400 migrants have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

The proposed measures include European-financed development programs to spur job growth; help for Chad and Niger with border controls; European Union funds to provide “humane care” for migrants in Libya; and a system to allow migrants making asylum claims to receive a preliminary review while they are in Chad or Niger. The goal is to discourage those whose claims are weak from trying to make the journey.

While European leaders repeatedly said the measures were aimed at protecting migrants from the abuses of traffickers, they appeared at least as focused on shifting to African nations some of the burden of halting illegal migration.

This approach has similarities to that taken by the European Union in its 2016 deal with Turkey in which it agreed to pay Ankara some 6.6 billion euros ($7.9 billion) to keep migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, and help Turkey provide them with refugee camps. That agreement also permitted Greece to send back those who made it to its shores. The policy all but halted the flow of people taking the route through Turkey into Europe. In the first eight months of 2016, nearly 163,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean entering through Greece. This year during the same period, just 14,000 came by the same route.

It is unclear if the proposals outlined Monday will require additional expenditures. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign affairs and security policy chief, who attended the meeting in Paris, said there was no need for “to invent a new Marshall Plan” for Africa since the European Union and individual European countries together already invest some 20 billion euros (about $24 billion) annually in African development aid and other programs.

Any European Union funds or programs might require the approval of other member countries.

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EU, African leaders meet in Paris to discuss migrant crisis — 125,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean by boat this year

August 28, 2017



© Carlo Hermann, AFP file picture | Migrants rescued from the sea stand on the deck of the Italian rescue ship Vos Prudence as it arrives in the port of Salerno July 14, 2017


Latest update : 2017-08-28

Leaders from seven African and European countries meet in Paris on Monday for a mini-summit to discuss how to ease the EU’s migrant crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron has invited his counterparts from Niger and Chad as well as the head of the Libyan unity government Fayez al-Sarraj, whose countries lie on the main transit route for migrants heading to Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish and Italian prime ministers Mariano Rajoy and Paulo Gentiloni, and Europe’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, will join the talks.

European nations are keen to offer development aid and funding to their African partners in return for help in stemming the flow of economic migrants and asylum seekers.

A total of 125,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean by boat this year, according to UN figures, with the vast majority arriving in Italy before travelling on to other EU members. An estimated 2,400 have died en route.

France is seeking improved border controls and patrolling of the waters around Libya complicated by the country’s competing governments and state of lawlessness as well as development aid to create jobs in Africa.

“The fight against illegal migration is being led on two fronts: development and security,” said a source in the French presidency, asking not to be named.

In July, Macron also proposed without consulting his allies the creation of so-called “hotspots” in Africa where asylum seekers fleeing persecution or war could lodge a request to travel to the EU.

would mean they would not need to make the perilous trip across the Mediterranean with the help of people traffickers, who frequently pack too many people onto flimsy boats and often mistreat the migrants.

Sharp fall in crossings

The meeting might also provide information on why arrivals have plummeted in recent weeks from Libya, the main route into Europe since a separate pathway from Turkey into Greece was shut down in 2016.

The numbers arriving in Italy have fallen by around 50 percent in July and August compared with last year, leaving experts scrambling for an answer.

Improved action by the Libyan coastguard, tougher border controls in transit countries inland, as well as Libyan militias joining efforts to stop boats leaving have all been touted as possible reasons.

The president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, will tell his European counterparts that the number of migrants passing through the transit town of Agadez in his country has fallen by 80 percent thanks to government efforts, a source in his team told AFP.

Libya has also sought to restrict the work of NGOs operating rescue boats in the Mediterranean which pick up migrants stranded on inflatable dinghies or other unseaworthy crafts.

Italy has also sought to impose a code of conduct on the NGOs, which face accusations from some critics that their operations have encouraged migrants to attempt the crossing, knowing that they will be picked up in an emergency.

The code has been signed by five out of seven NGOs with rescue ships only the French organisation Doctors Without Borders and Germany’s Sea-Watch have refused out of principle.

The code is set to be approved by all the countries present on Monday, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

After the talks about immigration during the day, the European leaders are set to meet together in the evening to discuss reforming the EU and joint efforts to prevent terror attacks.

Libya crisis affecting fight against people smuggling

August 27, 2017


© AFP | Libya’s unity government chief Fayez al-Sarraj at a joint press conference in the Sudanese capital on August 27, 2017

KHARTOUM (AFP) – President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan said on Sunday that the crisis in neighbouring Libya has impacted Sudan, with human traffickers using the East African country’s territories to commit “cross-border crimes”.Speaking at a joint press conference with visiting UN-backed Libyan premier Fayez al-Sarraj, Bashir also said security issues in Libya had made Khartoum’s fight against human trafficking “more expensive”.

“We are affected directly by the insecurity in Libya, which has made it expensive for us to fight human trafficking, illegal immigration and cross-border crimes,” Bashir said.

 Image result for Sudan, Libya, map

“Those who are committing these crimes are using the instability in Libya, and using Sudanese territories to commit their crimes.”

Every year tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Horn of Africa cross Sudan and enter Libya for their onward journey to Europe across the Mediterranean.

In recent years European and African authorities have put pressure on Khartoum to boost efforts to curb illegal immigration and human trafficking.

Khartoum recognises the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord of Sarraj, a rival of Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is accused by Sudan of enlisting rebels from the country’s Darfur region to fight alongside his forces.

Bashir reiterated that accusation on Sunday.

“We have some Sudanese members of rebel groups active in Libya as mercenaries,” he said, without elaborating.

Sarraj said the two leaders discussed the security situation in Libya.

“Sudan is of strategic importance to Libya, and we discussed how to secure the border,” he said.

The two leaders did not talk about last month’s closure of a Sudanese consulate and the expulsion of 12 diplomats by the Haftar-backed authorities in eastern Libya.

A pro-Haftar news agency had reported that the Sudanese mission in Kufra, an oasis in southern Libya, was closed on the grounds that it damaged “Libyan national security”.

According to officials in Khartoum, dozens of young Sudanese — both men and women — have been killed in Libya fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State jihadist group.

Libya has been rocked by chaos since the 2011 fall and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a NATO-backed revolution.

Jihadists, arms dealers and people traffickers have gained a foothold in the North African country as multiple authorities and dozens of militias vie for power.

Germany’s Angela Merkel: ‘Refugees must be distributed fairly’

August 27, 2017

Chancellor Merkel has called in an interview for EU countries to show solidarity in taking in refugees. But she said her decision to open Germany’s borders in 2015 was one she would take again in the same circumstances.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

In an interview published on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel again defended her resolution two years ago to provide refuge to those fleeing from warfare in Syria and other countries.

“I would take all the important decisions of 2015 the same way again,” she told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper, saying they had been necessary to “avert a humanitarian catastrophe.”

However, she admitted that EU law at the time had been inadequate for dealing with the enormous refugee influx that ensued. She criticized the so-called “Dublin Regulation” on refugees, which requires those seeking asylum to register in the first EU state they enter.

Read more: Angela Merkel from A to Z: the many faces of the chancellor

Migration flows in the Mediterranean 2017 ENGMediterranean countries bear the brunt of the migrant flows

Unfair burden for Greece and Italy

The regulation means that EU countries on the Mediterranean are forced to take in the overwhelming majority of migrants, most of whom come via the sea route.

“It is unacceptable that Greece and Italy should have to carry the burden alone only because they have the geographical location that they do and the refugees land in them,” she told the Welt am Sonntag.

Instead, refugees should be distributed among the EU member states in solidarity, she said.

Calls for redistribution of refugees in the bloc according to a quote scheme have previously met with considerable resistance, particularly from eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary.

Holidays at home?

Merkel however also called for harsher measures to be taken against asylum seekers if it was discovered that they had gone on holiday in their countries of origin, as recent reports have suggested.

“Taking holidays in the country in which you are being persecuted is not on,” Merkel said, adding that if it did happen, it could be a reason to re-examine any decision to grant asylum to those involved.

The chancellor also spoke about the issue of EU cooperation with Libya on refugees, which has come under vehement criticism from human rights groups who say migrants in the largely lawless North African country have been subjected to abuse of many kinds.

Migrants in sea off Libya Migrants often have difficulties after setting off from Libya

Merkel said that she wanted to provide the Libyan coast guard “with the necessary equipment to do its work,” which under a recent agreement means trying to prevent migrants leaving Libyan territory. She said the EU-Libya deal aimed at preventing human trafficking, which had led to many deaths.

But she said that at the same time, the EU “of course considers it to be of the greatest importance that the Libyan coast guard adheres to the rules of international law, both in dealing with refugees and migrants and with non-governmental organizations.”

If doubts were to arise about Libya’s behavior in this regard, the reports would be investigated, Merkel said.