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EU relations with Libya vital to Frontex success - Busuttil

For Frontex to succeed in the Mediterranean, the EU must develop a relationship with Libya, MEP Simon Busuttil told University students during a discussion on campus about the EU's Immigration Pact.

He explained that Libya was the only Mediterranean country with which the EU has no relations, making it difficult to force it to cooperate on a number of issues, including border surveillance.

The patrols run in the central Mediterranean by Frontex, the EU's border agency, were recently described as a failure by its chief Illika Laitinen, with more migrants than ever landing in Malta and Lampedusa this year.

Dr Busuttil subsequently attacked Mr Laitinen's comments as clumsy and bizarre, saying the patrols could be more effective if Libya were persuaded to cooperate. In an event promoted as a consultation meeting on the new pact and attended by 50 students, Dr Busuttil emphasised the need to focus on the bigger picture of immigration. This included giving development aid to different African countries to reduce the number of people leaving their country.

Dr Busuttil is in charge of preparing the European Parliament's reaction to the pact as proposed by the European Council. It will be up to the EP to adopt a common immigration policy, so his report will be highly influential.

Stressing the importance of stopping immigration at its origin and enforcing deportation laws, Dr Busuttil gave special mention to the highly anarchic situation in Somalia, which was causing many immigrants to flee.

These, like others, deserved humanitarian protection until the situation in their country improved but they could not all stay in Malta.

While refugees and those with humanitarian protection should be integrated into Europe, the number of immigrants taken in should be proportionate to the size of the country, he said.

Integration could be beneficial but it required the will of the country, as well as the migrants. Many migrants never wanted to come to Malta in the first place so they did not necessarily want to integrate.

Dr Busuttil said burden-sharing agreements were necessary for immigrants to be resettled in other countries once they received refugee status or humanitarian protection.

The others immigrants, however, had to be sent back, he said, stressing the importance of enforcing border security laws. Even Eastern European and Asian immigrants who overstayed their visas had to be returned.

Explaining the pact, Dr Busuttil said that although burden-sharing was on a voluntary basis, it could still be effective and it was definitely a step in the right direction, considering that until recently every country was isolated.

He said it was irresponsible of politicians to make it seem as if the problem could be solved at a push of a button; reality was much more difficult.

He called for harsher fines for those who exploited migrant workers by employing them illegally.

A student pointed out that many immigrants had been classified as illegal but had not yet been repatriated. She added that since these could not work legally, they would have to resort to crime.

Dr Busuttil acknowledged such a situation and said this had created a vicious cycle, which had to be addressed.

In reply to another question, he said reducing Malta's search and rescue area - which is the size of the UK - would not solve the island's immigration problem. Maltese search and rescue teams would still be obliged to save immigrants in distress because, if Libya failed to cooperate, Malta would not let them drown.

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