by Zheng Jianghua
BRUSSELS, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- The European Union(EU) shoud not expect too much on its deal with Libya to stem the inflow of migrants from North Africa, a senior UN official in charge of refugees affairs in Europe told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview.
Since the summer of 2015, an unprecedented refugee crisis has been an tough nut to crack for the EU. Thanks to an "aid for return" deal with Turkey in March 2016, the EU boxed in the inflow of refugees via the eastern Mediterranean route.
However, it still bears the brunt of migratory pressure, particularly from the central Mediterranean route, which links Libya to Italy.
At an informal summit held in Malta earlier this Month, the EU adopted a plan to aid Libya, aiming to bolster Libyan national coast guard's capacity to control its territorial water and support the development of local communities. The EU also intended to torpedo the human traffick network in the route.
But Vincent Cochetel, Director of Bureau for Europe of United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees( UNHCR), pointed out that the EU should not expect the deal would work as the one with Turkey.
"Turkey is a state with administration, with laws. Libya is a country at war. It is totally divided. The UN-recognized government only controls a very small percentage of the territory of Libya," said Cochetel.
"Libya has not signed any convention related to the protection of refugees. The conditions are totally different. We believe it's more important for everybody to look at the root causes of those movements in parts of west Africa, not only through migration management, but also through economic development," the veteran aid official continued.
"At this stage, the EU is dreaming another Libya. It's not the Libya we know now," he lamented, stressing that the security situation in that country is so problematic that "to do more activities in Libya is quite difficult for us or for other humanitarian organizations".
"We have some small presence there but the security is very problematic for our colleagues there," said the veteran humanitarian worker, who was held hostage by armed captors demanding ransom in January 1998 while working for UNHCR in Chechnya.
During those sore days, he was handcuffed in the dark and only had a meal (just a piece of bread) per day, sometimes only a soup per day. He was rescued by Russian forces after an 11-month suffering.
"I spent time in hospital for two to three months, but to be able to talk about it, it took five to six years," he said.
"Quite often humanitarian workers are becoming a target. Before some time, we were attacked by accident. Now we are becoming a bit of target, because people making money or ransom try to put pressure on humanitarian organizations," he said.
"One thing I have learned is that it's always important to tell people that why we insist on doing this job, (and) why we take those risks." he said.
"What I experienced was to be in detention, to be badly treated. But I didn't lose my hope; I didn't lose my country."
With such an experience, Cochetel understands well what refugees have suffered.
"Sometimes they don't want to talk about what happened to them, because it's painful," he said. "They lost self-esteem and self-confidence. So you need to encourage them to talk."
According to Cochtel, one of UNHCR's work is to help European countries put in place proper screening and registration procedures to figure out who is a refugee and who is not.
In this process, letting migrants talk is a key factor to figure out their nationality and thus identify whether they are refugees or not, given that many migrants don't move with any identity documents.
He explained that there are migrants moving to Europe "purely for economic reasons", and refugees fleeing wars.
"So we ask the person what is the currency of your country and can you give me a synonym of microphone in your language," he said, taking a simple example.
Regarding to economic migrant, Cochetel said: "They are not experiencing persecution in their country. They are not coming from countries at war. The solutions for those people is return."
Asked about the rise of anti-refugee sentiment across Europe, he said that it's very easy to make refugees the scapegoat for the current social problems in Europe.
"If we are some politicians, (we would argue that )the problem is because of migration, because of refugees, because of Brussels. You know sort of scapegoats," he said.
"We should remind European citizens the refugees are people fleeing for their life. They are themselves victims of war," he noted, stressing that Europeans also fled their home during wars.
He also frowned on a controversial U.S. travel ban that indefinitely halts refugees from Syria, and temporarily freezes citizen of seven Muslim-majority countries to enter the United states.
"It is important for the U.S. to remain a resettlement country including for people coming from Muslim background. Because if the U.S. cannot resettle those people, it sets a very bad precedent," he said.
However, he conceded that it's not easy for citizens of those countries to get visas of EU countries.
When it comes to EU's performance in dealing with refugees already arriving in the bloc, Cochetel underlined that it's not fair to leave all the responsibilities to only some EU member states, like Greece, Italy and Germany.
"That's why we need relocation, why we need a distribution system," he said, adding that the EU is trying to put in place comprehensive solutions with countries of origin and countries of transit.
He said that China has the capacity to give a hand to the EU to address the root causes of migrant flows.
Cochedel underscored it's important for China to become a leader in humanitarian field, and carry on such engagements not only bilaterally but also multilaterally.
"Investment in looking at the root causes is where China can really make a difference," he said.
Cochetel also hailed China's "considerable experience in disaster management", recalling that when Haiti was hit by an earthquake several years ago, China, like other countries, got involved in relief effort "with lots of knowledge, lots of technical capacity".
He noted that China's know-how in this field should be used multilateral in those countries affected by conflicts and wars. "That would help humanitarian community tremendously," he said.
Regarding how to enhance the cooperation between China and UNHCR, Cochetel underscored that UNHCR's mandate, which is "non-political with focus purely on humanitarian activities", is consistent with China's approach regarding conflict situations.