Nick Meo, Sydney Morning Herald, September 5, 2011
With the Mediterranean stretching to the horizon, the fishing port at Janzour is a jewel on the coastline around the capital.
It is also where Muammar Gaddafi held Europe to ransom by threatening to flood it with illegal immigrants. While he was in power, he demanded billions of dollars in European Union funding for his help stopping human trafficking.
But, ever since the NATO bombing campaign started in March, he seems to have not only abandoned attempts to stop smuggling but also encouraged it as revenge.
For much of the past few months, men in uniform had been directing immigrants on to boats bound for Italy, witnesses said.
Africans who landed this northern summer on Lampedusa, an island south of Sicily, said their passage was free, in contrast with the $US1000 ($938) usually demanded by smugglers.
No boats have left since the rebels drove out Gaddafi’s men, but the human cargo is still stranded there; a thousand African men, women and children, clustered in the dirt under beached boats. They are hungry, scared, penniless and desperate to escape.
This raises the prospect of an influx of migrants to Europe in the months to come, with no guarantee that the rebel government will want or be able to stop it.
Many Africans fear they will be murdered by rebels taking revenge. Since Gaddafi’s soldiers fled two weeks ago, Libyan gunmen have prowled the camp, raping women and robbing the men at knife point.
Gaddafi had invited them into the country, giving them jobs and housing in return for their support. He used their presence to blackmail Europe.
Last year, Gaddafi warned that unless the EU paid him $6 billion a year to stop immigration, Europe would “turn black”. Before that, Libya and Italy had co-operated with each other to stop immigration.
After NATO backed the rebels in March, Gaddafi again threatened to open the floodgates.
When the NATO bombing of Libya began, 28,000 Africans arrived on Lampedusa from Libya from March to August. There were few the previous year.