Malta’s relations with Libya had always been built on the importance of keeping good political and commercial ties between close neighbours.
The NATO-led revolution of 2011, when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was forcefully replaced by rival administrations, failed to bring about the prosperity that many Libyans had hoped for.
It now seems that Libya is once again attempting to restore political stability with the help of its neighbours and the international community.
In the last 10 years, the country has been plagued by several crises that have made most Libyans’ lives intolerable. These crises have also had a negative impact on some neighbouring countries like Malta and Italy due to uncontrolled illegal migration masterminded by human traffickers.
The United Nations estimates that more than three million people across Libya have had their lives badly disrupted in the last decade, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands, reduced access to essential services and constraints on access to life-saving support.
The civil war between rival administrations has exacerbated the risks and vulnerabilities of migrants, internally displaced persons and conflict-afflicted communities in the country.
There now seems to be a glimmer of hope to reverse this trend and help Libya achieve political stability. A UN-sponsored process has led Abdul Hamid Dbeibah to be appointed as interim prime minister until elections are held at the end of this year.
For this political process to be successful in turning around the country’s political fortunes, neighbouring countries and the international community need to support Libya in every way possible.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, Maltese prime minister Robert Abela and Italian prime minister Mario Draghi met the Libyan prime minister in Libya over the last few days.
They all made a firm commitment to helping the war ravished country to re-join the international community in a meaningful way.
Abela made a strong commitment when he said: “We are going to reopen our embassy and our consulate in Libya in the coming days.” Flights will also resume soon.
Other areas where Libya had asked for help from Malta were defined by Dbeibah when he commented earlier in the year that he “would only meet Prime Minister Abela when the proper respect is shown to the Libyan people”. He alleged that Libyan passport holders were not being treated with respect.
Both Malta and Libya must have a clear understanding of what can be done to dispel any mistrust that may erupt from time to time. Malta has international obligations on the issue of visas to non-EU nationals. Maltese banks have other strict international regulatory obligations on the opening of accounts to prospective clients.
This does not mean that the process for visas and the opening of accounts cannot be improved. The opening of the embassy and a consulate in Libya is a step in the right direction. The dialogue between the Libyan and Maltese counterparts should be kept constantly alive to accelerate the process of normalisation.
Abela highlighted the opportunities that a politically stable Libya will create for Maltese businesses. Perhaps the best outcome from normalised political stability in Libya will be the control of migration to Europe.
Malta’s efforts to support Libya will have a better chance of success if made in the context of the United Nations and the EU’s crisis response strategy.