Beyond Europe, Borders Adrift

“Quite frankly, I don’t remember whether we committed suicide that night or not.”1 Borges’s imaginative realism evokes the surrealist nonchalance of Italian and European Union (EU) politicians as they recursively chase an immigration agreement with Libya.2 Such an agreement, seeking to contain purportedly unwanted African emigration, was most recently formalized in February 2017. It has been resurfacing on the European horizon since 2004, when “Leader of the Revolution” Muammar Gaddafi was a sought-after business partner, and then again in 2012, following his demise. Italian and EU politicians, I argue, are perfectly cognizant of what they are doing, as they shift south sovereign boundaries of border enforcement, international conventions, and human rights.3

On February 2, Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni and Libyan counterpart Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the internationally recognized Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA), signed in Rome a Memorandum of Understanding centered on migration. Among its main objectives, the Memorandum calls for the implementation of the Treaty of Friendship, Partnership, and Cooperation signed in 2008 by then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and by Gaddafi. Implementation would include a bilateral fight “against terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and immigration” (article 19), and Italian/EU funding for Libyan coast guard and border-patrolling activities, detention centers, and repatriation of third-country nationals. On February 3, at an informal summit, the twenty-eight heads of state or government of the EU approved 200 million euros in funding for Libyan authorities. They also issued a related “Malta Declaration.” The Declaration praises the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement as it curbed refugee arrivals through the Aegean “route”; stigmatizes the heavily trafficked “Central Mediterranean route”; and restates that a “key element of a sustainable migration policy is to ensure effective control of [the EU’s] external border and stem illegal flows.”4 In this endeavor, the “determination to act in full respect of human rights, international law and European values,” as the Declaration recites, is unapologetically outsourced to a volatile constellation of reluctant Libyan actors.

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