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EU Looks to Africa for Refugee Solution

Sabina Castelfranco (nda)
September 29, 2004

EU justice and interior ministers are expected to discuss plans for an EU asylum center in Africa at a meeting this week. Italy is already cooperating with Libya and says such a center should be set up there.

Europe hopes to involve Africa in stopping the tide of refugeesImage: AP

Italy's Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu is convinced the deal his government struck with Libya to curb illegal immigration is starting to bear fruit. He recently traveled to Tripoli to meet with his Libyan counterpart and discuss the plan further. Following the meeting, he said the results so far are encouraging.

The Italian government has been increasingly concerned with the continuous arrivals of illegal immigrants. Holding centers in Sicily and on the island of Lampedusa have suffered the brunt of the problem and reached bursting point this summer.

Pisanu said a proposal to create asylum camps in Libya to prevent illegal immigrants from reaching Italian shores is moving forward after the Italy-Libya immigration deal was agreed in August between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi.

Lampedusa Immigranten Flüchtlinge
A boat carrying some of the 79 would-be immigrants reaches Lampedusa.Image: AP

Concerns about Libya's human rights record

The idea, originally proposed by Britain, was revived by Italy and Germany this summer and is expected to be discussed by EU justice and interior ministers this week.

Amnesty International has already voiced its concern citing Libya's human rights record. It also said asylum seekers must be given adequate protection.

As part of the agreement, the Italian government is planning to send 150 police officers to Libya to help train their Libyan counterparts. The training exercises are expected to last one month and are likely to start in November.

In addition, Tripoli will be purchasing military equipment and vehicles from Italy. Pisanu said this will be possible following the European Union's recent decision to lift its embargo on the sale of military equipment to Libya.

Dropping embargo will aid Libyan efforts

Lampedusa: völlig entkräfteter Flüchtling aus Somalia
Italian soldiers help a weak and sick refugee from his boat in Lampedusa harbor.Image: DPA

After EU foreign ministers officially do away with the embargo at a meeting scheduled for Oct. 11 and Oct. 12 in Luxembourg, Italy will be able to sell to Libya airplanes, boats, helicopters and jeeps needed to block the trafficking of illegal immigrants.

The EU decision followed pressure by Italy which wanted Libya to make more efforts in controlling its coastline to stop human traffickers sending boatloads of illegal immigrants across the sea to Italy.

In the past, Libya was forced to borrow such vehicles from Rome. Libya's thousands of kilometers of desert and sea frontiers are difficult to police, but both countries have a strong interest in bringing the flood of illegal immigrants from other parts of Africa to Libya under control.