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Immigration woes

May 26, 2009

Libya has asked the European Union for more help in fighting illegal immigration. Libya often acts as a transit point for Africans trying to reach Europe illegally by sea.

A group of immigrants from Ghana prepare for bed in a crowded one-room cardboard shack under a bridge in Tripoli, Libya
These men from Ghana found themselves living under a bridge in TripoliImage: AP

The EU promised Libya, which has long land and sea borders, 20 million euros ($25 million) in February. Yet the Libyan government says this is not enough to help it stop the flow of migrants. Libya's interior ministry urged the EU on Tuesday to provide additional "technical aid, training and equipment."

More than 67,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea, headed for Europe, in 2008, with half of them landing in Italy and Malta, according to the United Nations' refugee agency. The number of illegal immigrants reaching Italy grew by 75 percent in 2008 compared to the previous year. During the same time period, it grew by 65 percent in Greece.

Illegal immigration is also becoming a domestic issue in Libya. Many Libyans blame the increasing numbers of African migrants for a variety of social ills. But the migration issue is a sensitive one for Libya, since leader Moammar Gadhafi, the chair of the African Union, has endorsed a vision of a single African state, which would allow free movement of people and goods within the continent.

Libyan and EU flags
The EU and Libya have said they'll work together on immigrationImage: AP/DW

Europe looks to neighbors for help

Gadhafi has also tried to establish a better relationship with the European Union by agreeing to stop banned weapons programs in 2003. The two sides are currently negotiating a pact to expand cooperation on a wide range of issues.

"We must do everything in our power to stop boat crossings, to guarantee coastal checks and help countries like Libya put in place agreements it can keep," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said last week.

The European Commission is currently preparing new plans to combat illegal immigration, which are to be announced by mid-June. Barroso pointed out that the EU cannot stop illegal immigration on its own and needs to work with governments outside the bloc.


Editor: Susan Houlton