As I have said repeatedly, Libya's system of detaining migrants is unacceptable and must end. Libya, like all other countries, must manage migration in full compliance with international law. This is a matter primarily for the Libyan Government, which bears the responsibility and has the presence on the ground, rather than for external actors such as the EU.
The EU is maintaining its political pressure on the Libyan authorities to end the system of detention centres. For example, when the EU High Representative met with the Prime Minister of Libya and the UN Special Representative for Libya in February, she raised conditions in detention centres. Ireland and the EU will continue to raise this issue at every appropriate opportunity.
The EU is also working to ensure that other options exist to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants, by supporting the work of UNHCR and IOM, and I had the opportunity to discuss the situation in Libya today with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Filippo Grandi. In December 2018, the Libyan authorities agreed to the opening of the UNHCR Gathering and Departure Facility, as a hub to help refugees and asylum seekers to be swiftly evacuated. This is only a temporary solution for particularly vulnerable groups, including those who have been evacuated from detention centres near conflict areas. The EU will continue to work with the UN agencies, the Libyan authorities and others to find sustainable alternatives to the system of detention.
Through our cooperation with the UN and the African Union, the EU has also helped over 45,000 migrants stranded in Libya to return voluntarily to their countries of origin, and has evacuated close to 4,000 persons in need of international protection. Since many more people remain at risk, the EU will continue to work with its partners to relocate them to safe places swiftly to receive assistance.
I welcome reports from UNHCR this week that the Libyan Government has decided to release migrants and refugees from Tajoura detention centre, which was struck in a horrific attack earlier this month. I understand that the majority of migrants and refugees decided to leave the detention centre, and are being provided with support by the UNHCR. This is a positive development, but of course it comes too late for those who lost their lives in the attack. I call on the Libyan authorities to continue to cooperate with UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies to empty all the migrant detention centres in Libya as soon as possible, and in line with their responsibilities under international law.
Efforts to ensure the wellbeing of refugees and migrants in Libya remain constrained by the current security and political situation there. Libya is in the midst of a civil war and conflict there has severely limited the capacity of the international community to monitor and influence events on the ground. The EU Delegation to Libya had to be relocated to Tunisia, and most EU Member States with Embassies in Libya had to close these, due to the growing security threat. There is also a governance vacuum in many parts of the country, and access for international organisations seeking to monitor and alleviate conditions for migrants is restricted in many areas. Governments need counterparts, if we are to exert pressure – counterparts which are actually in control of the territory where abuses happen.
Ultimately, bringing real improvements to the lives of Libyans and migrants and refugees in Libya will require restoration of political stability and an end to lawlessness in Libya. This requires the formation of a fully functioning and unified Government, and a return to order throughout the country. The UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé is working to achieve this. The EU will continue to work with the UN and others to support and reinforce Libya's sovereign institutions. In the meantime, we will maintain pressure on all parties to ensure unhindered access for humanitarian organisations to improve conditions in detention centres, to increase alternatives to detention, and, ultimately, to put an end to the system of detention in Libya.