Posted on September 29, 2004

Gaddafi Joins EU Campaign To Foil Illegal Migrants

Bruce Johnston and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph (London), Sep. 28

Italy is to send 150 police officers to Libya, along with aircraft and infra-red tracking equipment, as a first step towards the creation of holding camps for illegal migrants passing through North Africa bound for Europe.

The deal between Italy and Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime is widely seen as a pilot project for a European Union policy of processing asylum seekers before they reach EU soil.

This would effectively sub-contract the job of migration control to buffer states which often have a record of harsh treatment of refugees.

The agreement begins this autumn with a mission to train Libyan officials. But the ultimate plan is for the Italian interior ministry to help establish migrant camps in Libya, which was an Italian possession from 1911 until the British conquest during the Second World War.

The Italians plan three refugee camps and already have the first 6,000 “modules” of tents and portable lavatories waiting for shipment once funds are released by the Italian parliament.

The idea of EU holding centres in North Africa, the Balkans, and the Ukraine has been attacked by civil rights groups as slide towards “concentration camps”. The United Nations said that locating camps outside the EU would violate international law.

Libya is not a signatory to the UN’s Geneva Convention on refugees and has been accused of widespread abuse of migrants.

EU justice ministers are expected to discuss ideas for an EU-wide policy for the holding camps in a meeting in The Hague on Thursday but little agreement is expected. Most of Europe’s northern states are opposed on human rights grounds, while France remains sceptical.

The scheme was first floated by Tony Blair at a summit in Thessaloniki last year but was deemed too controversial. It has since won support from Germany’s interior minister, Otto Schilly, who has proposed Morocco as a possible site for EU camps and processing centres.

The proposals are now fast gaining momentum in Brussels. The incoming EU justice commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione, backed the plan this month, warning that Europe faces a “time-bomb” from uncontrolled immigration.

“We have to ask the transit countries to establish camps that would take in immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, for example, and offer them humanitarian aid and information about job possibilities in Europe. But they would also investigate, identify, and send back those who would not be able to integrate in our society,” he said.

A recent EU agreement to lift an 18-year old arms embargo against the Gaddafi regime, expected to win formal approval from ministers on Oct 11, paved the way for the Italian-Libyan accord.

The move is seen as a reward for Libya’s renunciation of its nuclear ambitions and agreement to pay compensation for the Lockerbie bombing. It also allows Libya to import helicopters, aircraft, naval vessels, and infra-red gear needed to patrol its coastline.

Over the past three years, at least 50,000 mainly sub-Saharan migrants have entered Italy aboard overcrowded fishing boats. Two packed ships capsized last year, killing at least 250 people. The UN estimates that 5,000 illegal migrants have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in the last decade.

But the migrants pouring into Italy, mainly via the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, are also thought to have been used by Libya as a lever to apply pressure on Rome to urge Brussels to lift sanctions.

Col Gaddafi said Italy had been “instrumental” in getting the embargo removed, saying: “Once again Italy had shown itself to be Libya’s friend.”