The European Union gave 46 million euros ($54 million) to Italy on Friday to help it protect Libya’s northern and southern borders, part of the bloc’s efforts to stem arrival of African migrants across the Mediterranean.
Nearly 95,000 people reached Italy this year, embarking on smugglers’ dinghies from the shores of the lawless Libya.
Rome plans to send navy vessels to Libyan waters next month to combat human trafficking, as well as looking to strengthen Libya’s southern border, which many migrants cross on their way.
The EU has already deployed its mission further north in the Mediterranean and donated 90 million euros to improving living conditions for migrants stranded in Libya, as well as helping them get back home further south in Africa, to dissuade them from daring the deadly sea passage to arrive in the bloc.
It is supporting the U.N.-recognized government of Fayez Seraj in Tripoli, as well as training and equipping his coast guard to have it intersect migrants and put them back on shore.
The bloc is also trying to step back deportations of those who still make it to Europe, but fail to win asylum.
The EU’s strategy has been badly criticized by rights groups for pushing people back to inhumane treatment and other perils in Libya’s chaos, and failing to offer them enough protection.
Arrival figures show little to no sign that the EU strategy has worked so far.
Italy – Libya’s former colonial master and the main gateway to Europe now for Africans – is increasingly under pressure and has resorted to more bilateral deals with Libya without waiting for the rest of the EU to follow.
A senior EU official hoped, however, that the combined 136 million euros, and Italy’s own endeavors will together eventually lead to lower arrivals in Europe, which has turned increasingly cold to accepting refugees and migrants.
That came after a chaotic influx of more than a million people in 2015 caught the EU by surprise, beefing up support for populist, nationalist and euroskeptic parties across the bloc.
These groups make a strong link between immigration from the mainly-Muslim Middle East and Africa and a raft of recent Islamist attacks in Europe.
“If we want to stop the flow, there must be an element of deterrence. This is Realpolitik, Italy is the EU state that has the biggest presence on the ground in Libya, has an embassy and intelligence there,” the official said.
“If we want someone to do something that will actually make a change, it can only be Italy. We will support them financially and that should bring effects.”