Franco Frattini is a former Foreign Minister of Italy and European Commissioner.
Libya’s bloody and destructive civil war has dragged on for almost a decade now, stamping out the hopes the nation held when it emerged from the brutal dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi. On Europe’s southern border, a hotspot of instability and chaos, where Islamist extremists have been free to exercise disturbing influence, has arisen.
A de-escalation in the conflict is not just in the interests of the Libyan people after years of suffering, but necessary to end the growing risk of a new migrant crisis, from which no European nation, in or out of the EU, will be immune. However, in recent months there has been one major obstacle to achieving this long sought-after goal: Turkey.
At the Berlin conference back in January of this year, before the world’s attention fixed firmly on the coronavirus pandemic, a major breakthrough was achieved, with a multilateral, UN-backed agreement to end external arms supplies to Libya’s belligerents.
Turkey was a signatory to this deal, yet it has used the following months not as an opportunity to further diplomatic efforts, but to up its supply of arms to the patchwork of Islamists, jihadists and organised criminals propping up the Government of National Accord (GNA). Indeed, with the ink barely dry on the Berlin agreement, the Turkish ship Bana had set sail with crate loads of arms bound for the port of Tripoli.
This stream of arms supplies, counter to the UN embargo, has since increased over recent months, with the Bana signalling the start of a steady flow of illegal shipments. With Europe’s attentions understandably fixed firmly on the dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak, Turkey has been allowed to get away with this largely unchallenged by the international community.
Conditions for a second migrant crisis, with the heightened conflict in Libya, have been allowed to brew unnoticed. European nations, particularly those in the south, stand to bear the brunt of a potential fresh wave of asylum seekers. The UK, regardless of Brexit, will also inevitably be dragged into the situation, having received tens of thousands of extra asylum applications per year at the height of the last crisis.
Furthermore, Erdogan has exhibited rank opportunism with the world’s focus turned elsewhere, by pumping thousands of Syrian fighters, many with links to violent extremist groups in their native land, into the conflict. With promises of Turkish citizenship, high financial bonuses and full medical expenses in return, these fighters have been all-to-eager to jump into the fray. The ultimate goal is clear – for Turkey to tip the odds in favour of the GNA, and hold unrivalled influence over the subsequent Islamist Libya that emerges.
Should that Libya emerge, EU nations and the UK can expect the flow of migrants to continue unabated, as citizens seek to escape the brutal reality of a newly Islamist, harder-line nation. As countries with deep and lasting ties to Libya and values of liberty, liberalism and democracy at their heart, in contrast to the political Islam increasingly espoused by Turkey and their proxies, the UK and my native Italy will likely be first choice for thousands of fleeing Libyans.
Libya overrun by extremist fighters, adhering to an Islamist ideology which views the West as its opponent, rather than as a partner, is now a very distinct possibility. The last thing Europe needs as it recovers from the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is a Turkey-induced migrant crisis on its southern border, but without firm resistance from the continent’s major powers, including the UK. This looks increasingly likely to become reality.
Europe and the international community must wake up to the threat posed by a destabilised Libya on the shores of the Mediterranean. Turkey’s culpability, with its reckless pumping of billions of dollars of weapons and thousands of extremist fighters into a conflict it had signed up to de-escalate is a security crisis waiting to happen on Europe’s southern flank. With attentions still firmly fixed on the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey has been allowed to quietly get away with reckless behaviour largely free of scrutiny. If this continues unabated, another migrant crisis beckons.