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France

'Hotspots' in Libya: French President Macron's troubling announcement

© Michel Euler / POOL / AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a citizenship ceremony in Orleans, central France, on July 27, 2017.

Text by Alcyone WEMAËRE

Latest update : 2017-07-28

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he wanted to create "hotspots" in Libya this summer where migrants would be pre-screened for asylum claims, an announcement that sparked concern from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and a number of NGOs.

Both Cimade – a French charity for migrants – and HRW have criticised the decision, as well as other NGOs.

"The idea is to create hotspots in Libya to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We'll go to them," he said during a visit to a refugee shelter in central France on Thursday, adding the plan would be put in place "this summer".

Libya is the main launchpad for African migrants trying to reach Europe in rickety boats operated by smugglers that frequently sink.

However, while giving an official speech later the same day, Macron said there was no question of "hotspots" in Libya. France will instead have OFPRA (Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons) "missions … on African soil, in safe countries". Macron also dropped any mention of "this summer", and indeed of any time frame for his plans.

"I hope that the European Union, and at least France, will be able to treat asylum seekers as close to their country of origin as possible,” Macron said in his speech. “That is why we will develop OFPRA missions, which will go to Italian hotspots, to improve our cooperation with Italy, in terms of rightful asylum seekers and others on African soil, and in safe countries where we can organise these missions, to help asylum-seekers and to avoid taking undue risks."

This was clearly a more vague speech than his surprising statements to the press a few minutes earlier.

The Élysée Palace told FRANCE 24 that in the president's exchange with journalists he was speaking of "hotspots" as just "OFPRA advance points". The Élysée also stressed that no "hotspot" would open in Libya "if the security conditions are not met”, which presently they are “not”.

The Élysée also referred to "countries south of Libya like Chad or Niger, where we can carry out these Ofpra missions". Later Thursday, the Élysée told AFP that the opening of "hotspots" in Libya itself was "not possible today, but it could be in the short term ... By the end of August, we will have an OFPRA mission to see how it is possible to put this in place."

'A worrying French plan to outsource asylum applications'

Was it a gesture to throw some red meat at conservative French voters? Was it just a blunder followed by a U-turn? Or perhaps it was a follow-up to Tuesday’s meeting in Paris between Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and Khalifa Haftar, the general controlling the east of the country -- a meeting organised by the French government?

"There is a total lack of detail. This has surprised many people, including the European Commission. It's not clear what Macron has in mind," Judith Sunderland, a specialist on migration issues at HRW, told AFP.

Marine de Haas, European affairs specialist at Cimade, told FRANCE 24 that "regardless of how Macron spoke about Libya, which was very disturbing, France wants to outsource asylum applications. The idea is to intervene as early as possible to sort the refugees – to choose between friendly asylum seekers and evil economic migrants. As if it was as simple as that."

De Haas said that Macron's remarks raise more questions than answers, particularly in terms of feasibility: "OFPRA’s role is treating asylum applications in France, not abroad," she said.

There are currently nine "hotspots" in Europe: four in Italy and five in Greece. Like other NGOs, Cimade is "very critical" of such hotspots, viewing them as "sorting centres" at Europe’s external borders. Creating them outside of Europe is inconceivable, De Haas said, pointing out the risks to the rights and dignity of the people concerned.

If “hotspots” outside Europe are introduced, De Haas added, there is a chance that European courts would strike them down as human rights abuses.

This article was translated from the original in French. 

Date created : 2017-07-28

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