Fayez al-Sarraj met leaders from France, Germany, Italy and Spain in 2017 - they promised to support Libya and other African countries to stop irregular migration | Photo: Imago
Fayez al-Sarraj met leaders from France, Germany, Italy and Spain in 2017 - they promised to support Libya and other African countries to stop irregular migration | Photo: Imago

The Libyan prime minister has called on those concerned about the country's migrant camps to help by taking in, or taking back, migrants. This follows comments from Austria's president that refugees should not be sent back to Libya, where tens of thousands of people are detained in terrible conditions.

Fayez al-Sarraj met with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen as well as the chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, in Vienna on Monday. Following the talks, Van der Bellen said the situation in Libya's detention camps was "to put it mildly, far from satisfactory... My personal opinion is that under these circumstances, refugees shouldn't be sent there at the moment," he said.

However, the Austrian president also recognized that Sarraj's government has no control over large sections of the country, which is roughly twice the size of France.

The Libyan prime minister responded by saying the government was doing what it could to improve conditions for about 20,000 people held in the camps. "We are working to respond to (detainees') needs, within the security and economic constraints that we have," he said. He added that Libya had more than 800,000 "illegal migrants," meaning that a large majority are living outside the camps.

Migrants at Njila detention center after they fled from another center near the airport due to fighting between rival factions in Tripoli Libya Credit EPASTR

Libya has often been criticized by the UN and humanitarian groups over conditions in the camps, including claims of abuse, torture, rape and slavery. Most of the migrants in the camps are those who have tried to make the sea crossing to Europe and were rescued or intercepted by the Libyan Coastguard, which receives €300 million from the European Union.

Take in migrants or help to send them back: Sarraj

In an interview with the Austrian APA news agency, Sarraj rejected as "unacceptable" European criticism of Libya's handling of migration policy. He said that Libya, as a transit country for migrants from the rest of Africa, is itself a "victim," and called on others to take more of the migrants.

"We call on those countries who are concerned about the migrants in the camps to help directly – by taking them into their own countries or to help with sending them back," Sarraj said. "We're talking about development for the countries of origin," he added.

Kurz praises Libyan coastguard

After an earlier meeting between Sarraj and his Austrian counterpart, Sebastian Kurz, who heads an anti-immigration government, Kurz said that his country had a "fundamental interest" in Libya's security and development. He also referred to the importance of fighting Islamic State jihadists and people traffickers.

Kurz expressed a "deep gratitude" to the Libyan coastguard "who have saved 20,000 people (at sea) and taken them back" to Libya.

 

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