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UNHCR silent on Libya’s €5bn request

The United Nations’ refugee agency has joined the EU Commission in keeping silent over Libya’s request for €5 billion to help it stymie the flow of African migrants into the country.

However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is insisting that any agreement signed between the EU and Libya should include provisions to help the north African state develop legislation on asylum, which is lacking.

“It is not up to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to comment on the Libyan request. Not even the EU commented on it,” Laura Boldrini, a spokesman for UNHCR Italy, said when asked about Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi’s request last Monday.

Ms Boldrini said, however, that there must be greater awareness of the problems asylum seekers and refugees face in Libya since the authorities there treat all non-residents in the same way.

“Libyan authorities consider those who are non-residents as migrants without making any distinction between economic mig­rants, asylum seekers and refugees.

“The EU can support Libya in developing asylum legislation and create a network of non-governmental organisations that work with these people,” Ms Boldrini said.

Mr Gaddafi’s request was couched in a threat that Europe risked becoming Africanised unless it helped Libya stop the flow of illegal migrants across its southern border.

Malta has supported Tripoli’s request for substantial EU funds in exchange for more control over the flow of illegal migrants, with Foreign Affairs Minister Tonio Borg describing it as “justified”.

He also played down Mr Gaddafi’s threat, dubbing the comments as “just negotiating tactics”.

However, President Emeritus Eddie Fenech Adami – who had last year said that sending immigrants straight back to Libya breached their fundamental human right to ask for protection – said a political solution was needed rather than money to address the flow of African migrants into Libya and Europe.

“The problem is political and the solution has to be a political one,” Dr Fenech Adami said, steering away from commenting on whether the controversial request was justified.

He did point out, however, that dealing with illegal immigration required “a just balance” between controlling the number of people who crossed borders and ensuring the rights of asylum seekers and refugees were safeguarded.

Last week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle took a very cautious approach in Malta when asked about the issue, insisting the Libyan request had to be dealt with in bilateral negotiations.

Criticism of Mr Gaddafi’s request has been muted, with Alternattiva Demokratika being the only party to urge the government not to give in to “blackmail”. Labour has remained silent on the issue.

Columnist and anthropologist Mark-Anthony Falzon, writing in The Sunday Times today (page 15) derides Mr Gaddafi’s antics and chastises Malta and Italy for entertaining his request.

“I find myself deeply troubled that we – and I mean here the EU generally and Italy and Malta in particular – can be so glib about sending boat migrants back to Libya... it is morally wrong for Italy – and Malta by chumminess in crime – to dispatch asylum seekers to Libya,” Dr Falzon says.

ksansone@timesofmalta.com

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