Conflict & Justice

Europe's latest idea for slowing the movement of migrants? Limit the number of rubber boats it sells to Libya.

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Migrants on wooden boats and rubber dinghies awaiting rescue are seen from the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station ship Phoenix in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017.

Credit:

Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

The European Union on Monday adopted limits on the export of inflatable boats to Libya in a bid to make it harder for smugglers to send migrants to Europe.

The decision by the foreign ministers of the 28 EU states, which also covers outboard motors, is the latest to help a chaotic and violence-torn Libya stem the flow of migrants to Italy, now the main route to the bloc.

"We took a decision to introduce restrictions from today onwards on the export and supply to Libya of the inflatable boats and motors," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

Read moreLibya’s coast guard is ‘endangering lives’ of migrants trying to reach Europe

"These devices are used by traffickers for smuggling activities. This decision we have taken on the European Union level will help make their businesses and lives even more complicated," the former Italian foreign minister told reporters.

An EU statement said there will now be a legal basis to block the supply of dinghies and outboard motors to Libya if there are "reasonable grounds" to suspect they will be used by people smugglers and human traffickers. 

The restrictions will also apply to such goods if they are transiting through the EU to Libya — a move which would in theory affect China where many are manufactured.

Also: Fewer migrants are crossing the Mediterranean than last year. But almost as many are dying.

Fishermen and others who have legitimate reasons to use the dinghies and motors will still be able to import them, the council said. 

In practice, EU countries could deny licenses to import-export businesses suspected of supplying smugglers, according to EU sources. 

The foreign ministers meanwhile extended until the end of 2018 an EU mission to help Libya re-establish effective controls mainly at its southern borders where sub-Saharan African migrants first arrive.

Libya is struggling to control its long land borders with Sudan, Chad and Niger.

Related: African migrants are reaching Europe with tales of kidnap and torture in Libya

In another bid to stop smuggling, the EU has also trained 113 Libyan coast guard members in the last few months and plans to train another 75 starting in September, Mogherini told reporters.

The EU is facing growing pressure from Italy to stop the flow of migrants to its shores, including demands to make member states admit tens of thousands of migrants under a largely unenforced emergency plan launched nearly two years ago.

The Italian authorities have already registered 85,000 arrivals on its coasts in the first six months of the year.