Libya has issued a veiled threat to send “hundreds of thousands” of extra migrants to Europe if Brussels does not give official recognition to its self-declared government.
Officials say they could hire boats to send large numbers of African migrants across the Mediterranean, massively adding to the numbers already reaching Europe’s borders.
The warning was made by a spokesman for the National Salvation Government of Libya’s General National Congress in an interview with The Telegraph in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
The Congress took control of Tripoli last year after fighting against forces loyal to the internationally-recognised House of Representatives government, and is not recognised by the European Union as Libya’s legitimate government. A fortnight ago, both factions also rejected the terms of a United Nations-brokered peace deal.
Jamal Zubia, the National Salvation Government’s foreign media spokesman, told The Telegraph that Libya was currently spending tens of millions of pounds a year stopping migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, through the use of detention centres and repatriation programs.
He said that if Europe continued to refuse to recognise the Congress’s authority, the Libyan government could reverse the policy.
“To be honest, I have advised my goverment many times already that we should hire boats and send them to Europe,” he said. “We are protecting the gates of Europe, yet Europe does not recognise us and does not want to recognise us. So why should we stop the migrants here?”
Libya has long been a major transit country for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, but the numbers have grown much greater thanks to the security vacuum that followed Colonel Gaddafi’s fall in 2011.
Last year alone, an estimated 170,000 migrants arrived by boat from Libya in Italy. Between January and September this year the figure was 130,000, although that reflects greater use of the so-called “Aegean” route via Turkey and Greece, where 360,000 people have so far crossed in 2015.
On Monday, the UN said that in total, more than 218,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in October – the highest monthly figure on record, and more than during the whole of 2014.