All Eyes on Migrants as Political Deal Keeps Slipping Through
The past week witnessed limited developments on the Libyan theatre as no breakthrough seems within anyone’s reach at this stage. Fierce fighting and clashes across western Libya were registered again, confirming that this area is now the epicentre of fighting between the Tripoli-based and Tubruq-based blocs. Furthermore, uprisings and armed agitation witnessed in Tripoli during the past two weeks seem to suggest that Libya Dawn forces are currently overstretched and losing whatever popular support inside the capital they had. Possibly in light of these developments and to improve its operational capabilities there, last week Misrata’s 3rd Force finalised an agreement with the Magarha tribe to end fighting in Qirah and in the Brak al-Shatti area in central Fezzan.
Keeping the above in mind, although UNSMIL’s Chief Bernardino Leon and EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini remain adamant that a grand political deal is now in sight, it does not come as a surprise that during the past week no significant breakthrough was registered with regards to UN-backed negotiations or tangential consultations being held in Morocco and Algeria. Actually, in light of Libya Dawn’s difficulties in Tripoli and western Libya, it is reasonable to expect hawkish elements among the Tubruq-based establishment will be further emboldened and keen to pursue a military solution to the crisis.
On the other hand, as a consequence of the tragic capsizing of a vessel transporting 700 migrants from the coast of Libya towards Italy on Sunday 19 April, the international community has turned its attention once again to Libya and to the security implications stemming from the lack of a stable central government there. Whilst a number of measures have been discussed by EU officials and government representatives, as well as British candidates, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the necessity of achieving a lasting political deal inside the North-African country. In fact, most plans discussed so far by EU member states in coordination with Frontex entail the adoption of measures aiming to provide quick fixes for the issue of large vessels sinking at sea. This ‘treating the symptoms’ while ignoring the root cause approach runs the risk of further militarising the issue of illegal transnational migration, as Patrick Kingsley brilliantly discussed on The Guardian last Saturday:
“I’m not threatened,” says Hajj, a 33-year-old law graduate. “It’s been happening for years, these promises and threats. They’ll move on. What are they going to do, put two frigates here? Two warships? In Libyan waters? That’s an invasion.” Far from panicking, Hajj and his friends are amused. What on earth would military options look like against such a tangled, complex trade? A trade deeply rooted in not just the coastal economy, but in dozens of way stations across the northern half of Africa. And one that is now reliant not just on a few experienced individuals but – thanks to the ongoing unrest sparked by Libya’s 2011 revolution – on overlapping and informal networks that emerge, morph and fade by the week.”
Who? Where?” asks a friend of Hajj’s when contemplating the potential targets of EU anti-smuggling operations. “No one has the name ‘smuggler’ written on their chest. Anyone here who has no money can sell their apartment, buy a boat, and organise a smuggling trip. By the time of the next trip you’d already have regained half the cost of the apartment. It’s a very easy formula.”
On the internal political stage, the House of Representatives in Tobruk has started an internal debate to extend its term beyond the remaining six months it is entitled to by existing laws. Whilst no final decision has been taken as of yet, it is worth monitoring this internal debate as it retains the potential of causing further splintering within the Tobruk-based bloc, as well as of being exploited by rival groups, blocs and constituencies to justify a renewed boycotting of talks or a more intransigent stance at the negotiations’ table.
Lastly, the oil sector witnessed yet another rough week. Firstly, the port of Hariga (Tobruk) was temporarily closed between Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 April as a result of a strike by security forces manning the oil terminal. The strike was subsequently called off, allowing for resumption of oil exports from the port, but not before confirming both the inherent volatility of the situation there and the desire of key Federalist leaders to keep the port open. Secondly, starting from Sunday 26 April, Libya’s oil production is slated to drop well below the 500,000bpd mark as the el-Feel oilfield, which has a capacity of 100,000bpd, was shut down on Saturday 25 April due to a strike related to salary issues launched by Zintani-aligned security forces stationed there. As no breakthrough is yet to be registered with regards to making Sidra’s or Ras Lanuf’s oil terminals operative again, it increasingly looks like regional actors playing with the Libyan crisis will have to dig deeper in their pockets to sustain the current flow of events.