European Union leaders Friday endorsed a plan to control mass migration from Libya at a special summit in Malta Friday that was dominated by the challenges of Donald Trump and Brexit.
The 28 leaders, faced with a surge in migrants this spring, backed steps including helping the Libyan coastguard to stop boats to Italy.
They also agreed to set up temporary camps in the north African nation.
But AFP report says they will also, without Prime Minister Theresa May, discuss the future of the bloc at a turning point with Britain set to leave.
French President Francois Hollande was said to have lashed out at Trump, who has predicted that other countries will follow Britain out of the EU.
“It is unacceptable that there should be, through a certain number of statements by the president of the United States, pressure on what Europe should or should not be,” Hollande said as he arrived at the summit.
On her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe “has its destiny in its own hands” as it deals with a US administration that seems ambivalent to Europe and NATO.
– Libya migration plan –
The key issue for Europe on Friday was tackling the Libyan migration route. This was so, having already largely shut the route Syrian refugees have taken to Greece over the Aegean, thanks to a controversial deal with Turkey.
As the EU leaders boarded a luxury yacht to cross Malta’s historic harbour to their lunch venue, rescue ships off Libya saved hundreds more people including babies from rickety boats.
“It’s an absolute nightmare in the Med right now,” said the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The leaders signed off on a new strategy to “break the business model” of traffickers who helped 181,000 mainly African economic migrants enter the EU via Libya and Italy last year.
The plan involves funding and training the Libyan coastguard, making it better able to intercept migrant boats before they reach international waters. Also, helping neighbouring countries to close routes into Libya, was discussed.
On the eve of the Malta meeting, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and his Libyan counterpart signed a deal in Rome on tackling people smugglers.
That deal provides for the establishment of EU-funded but Libyan-run camps to house migrants pending their “voluntary return or repatriation” to their home countries. Italy committed to funding medical services for the camps.
Rights groups warned that sending boats back to Libya could result in children being sent back to squalid detention centres.
“We know that the situation of the refugees is dramatic in Libya,” said Merkel at the summit. “That is why we have to proceed as we did in the context with Turkey: prevent illegality, to stop the game of smugglers and traffickers and improve the situation of the refugees.”
– Trump ‘threat’ to EU –
May, Merkel and Hollande all briefed their colleagues on their contacts with Trump, as Europe seeks to understand an unpredictable new president.
May was set to say she has won a guarantee of support for NATO from Trump and urge other EU leaders to meet commitments to spend two percent of GDP on defence, according to Downing Street.
EU President Donald Tusk, who is chairing the summit, warned in a letter to leaders ahead of the summit that Trump was a “threat” to the EU along with Russian aggression, an increasingly assertive China, and Islamic extremism.