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Libya asks EU for $1bn to combat immigration

Libya has asked Brussels for $1 billion (€707 million) worth of technical assistance and equipment in exchange for more collaboration with Europe on the illegal immigration front.

Following its recent decision to collaborate more closely with Italy and take back immigrants who had left from its shores, Libya is now piling pressure on the EU to provide it with boats, helicopters, trucks and other equipment in an attempt to patrol its borders.

In its efforts to offer tangible help to Malta and Italy to curb these migration flows, the EU is more inclined to offer assistance once Libya has started to show more collaboration.

The EU will be discussing the matter this week, first with EU home affairs ministers in Brussels and then through a visit by EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot to Tripoli.

"Finally Libya is engaging, and we want to build on this momentum," an EU official told The Sunday Times.

"Libya has already sent its 'shopping list' to Brussels, which we estimate will cost us around $1 billion. Although we are not giving any commitments we will surely be looking at Libya's demands more favourably once it is showing signs of collaboration."

Libya is considered as the main African transit country for almost all the illegal immigrants arriving on Maltese and Italian shores. It is estimated that in the past two years more than 60,000 sub-Saharan Africans have made the desperate crossing on rugged boats departing Libya for Italy.

International organisations estimate that some 4,000 people drowned as their journeys ended in tragedy.

It is estimated that 20 per cent of Libya's six million population is made up of illegal immigrants, which is causing disquiet on the domestic front since Libyans are blaming the increasing number of African migrants for a variety of social ills.

But the problem is also self-inflicted because for a number of years the country's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has pro-moted an open border policy and endorsed a vision of a single African state, which would allow free movement of people and goods within the continent.

This has led to about two million Africans flooding into Libya unchallenged.

Following intense pressure by Malta and Italy, particularly in recent months, the European Commission last week endorsed a set of new measures aimed to help the two member states tackle the illegal immigration problem in the short term.

These measures, which will be discussed on Thursday with EU home affairs ministers, include financial assistance, a new mechanism of 'voluntary' bur-den sharing which would enable member states to resettle refugees and those with asylum status from Malta and Italy.

The proposals also include the opening of UNHCR/EU reception centres in north Africa, particularly in Libya, so that asylum seekers may have their applications processed there.

"These extraordinary set of measures have been drawn up in direct response to Malta's and Italy's needs," the EU official said.

"We are hoping that EU interior ministers endorse our proposals on Thursday so that we can start translating plans into action," he said.

The Commission will need the green light from the 27 member states to start implementing these measures. Malta will be represented at the Justice and Home Affairs Council by Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici.

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