EU member states, with the exception of Denmark and the UK, have warmed up to the idea of taking a share of refugees should there be an exodus from Libya, according to Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgeieva.
Malta worked very closely with the UK over the past weeks to evacuate people from the troubled North African state and British Prime Minister David Cameron even thanked the island in the House of Commons.
Notwithstanding the resistance of Denmark and the UK, the announcement signals a marked improvement over the situation in the past days when many more member states made it clear they would be ready to help on humanitarian grounds but not take refugees.
Following the start of the Libyan uprising, six Mediterranean EU members, including Malta, made a formal proposal, asking for a special reallocation mechanism to share Libyan refugees who could flee to Malta and Italy, the closest ports of call. Some countries vehemently opposed the idea.
Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Austria and Germany had all spoken against. Sweden had even said it had not asked for any burden sharing when a few years ago it took 32,000 Iraqi refugees over a 12-month period.
The escalating violence in Libya and the prospects of fully-fledged civil war seem to have pushed many EU countries to have a change of heart. These have now communicated with the European Commission declaring they will be able to host some “Libyan” refugees.
Austria, which originally said its doors were closed, said it would be able to host about 6,000 refugees.
Commission sources said that although the “biblical exodus” predicted by Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has so far not materialised, it was not excluded many in Libya would try to escape to Europe if the conflict became more bloody. Until now, almost 120,000 people are believed to have fled to the Libyan borders with Egypt and Tunisia and the EU is coordinating the evacuation of these people towards their home countries.
Malta is assisting in this operation and has put at the disposal of the EU six Air Malta flights to take people from Djerba in Tunisia to their final destination.
The EU said member states had put at its disposal 52 planes and five vessels to be able to conduct the operation.