BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will spend 50 million euros to help Libya stem the flow of migrants to Europe and protect refugees that human rights groups say can face abuse in Libya, the EU executive said on Tuesday.
Commission officials signed a cooperation agreement with Tripoli on Monday night on projects ranging from border surveillance and security, prevention of human trafficking and protecting asylum seekers, it said.
Libya is a gateway for illegal immigration from Africa to Europe and has cooperated with Italy, a major port of entry for refugees to Europe, on restricting the flow of migrants, but has been reluctant to work with the European Union on human rights.
“The cooperation agenda foresees supporting Libyan efforts in establishing a protection system ... in line with international standards,” Michele Cercone, a spokesman for the Commission, told reporters at a regular briefing.
“Until now, the Libyan authorities have never wanted to cooperate ... on protection of asylum seekers,” he said.
Human rights groups have long been critical of the way Italy and Libya intercept illegal migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and warn many are mistreated while in detention in Libya.
Libyan authorities reject criticism of their mistreatment of migrants, saying Europe has unfairly burdened them with the responsibility of preventing vast numbers of people crossing into the EU.
Under the deal, EU officials will assist Libya in screening migrants to identify those in need of international protection and in dealing with those who fail to obtain asylum and are returned to their countries of origin elsewhere in Africa.
Each year, hundreds of thousands seek to enter the EU illegally via sea or land borders