German foreign minister says plan to hold migrants in Libya camps “catastrophic”

FILE PHOTO: Illegal African migrants sit in a bus before their voluntary return to their countries, in Tripoli, Libya, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo

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, Reuters reported.

“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, Reuters indicated.

But the move has been criticized by humanitarian groups and the United Nations, which says migrants suffer arbitrary detention, forced labor, rape and torture. Last month, Pope Francis said the holding centers had become “concentration camps”.

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, Reuters added.

“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.

Reuters added that Gabriel said Germany and the EU now favored 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 stabilize 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 Organization 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, Reuters explained.

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