Libya using migrants as weapon against Europe

Accounts of Libyan government complicity are mounting in the international press, as the conflict is pushing more African migrants and asylum seekers outside Libya, to make the journey towards Europe.

But a fundamental key is the fact that the Gaddafi-controlled port of Tripoli is using migrants as a weapon against Europe, by preventing them from leaving.

UK newspaper The Guardian yesterday reported that Libyan officials have admitted they are not preventing boats full with African migrants making the perilous crossing to Italy and Malta, in protest at air strikes which they say have destroyed the country’s coastguard.

The Financial Times also reported that Somali survivors of a shipwreck had said Libyan security forces made no effort to stop them from boarding ships to Europe.

UNHCR’s chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva: “We appeal to ship masters for heightened vigilance and for continued adherence to the longstanding maritime obligation of aiding people in distress.”

MaltaToday yesterday made satellite communication with a boat in distress carrying 220 people and gave the coordinates of the boat’s position to the Armed Forces of Malta.

Agence France Presse reported a Tripoli-based social worker who works with African migrants saying that authorities had generally prevented migrants from sailing for Europe before the NATO intervention.

“Before the conflict, you have no access; you can’t do that, because there was a high patrol around the shores,” she said.

Now, members of Libya’s security forces “are the ones arranging all this,” she said of the dangerous sea passage, that can cost passengers from hundreds to thousands of dollars. “Naval officers who have boats... even accompany them to international waters and teach the captain how to take the boat” in exchange for money.

Libya’s government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim suggested European countries had bought a wave of illegal immigration upon themselves by supporting NATO airstrikes on his country.
“For years and years...we worked very hard to prevent illegal migration to Europe and we succeeded,” he said Monday.

“But now, because of the NATO aggression against our country and because our coastal border guard is being hit daily... we are unable to deal with this situation and that is why Europe is being flooded with illegal immigration,” said Ibrahim. “We cannot be the guards of Europe at this moment.”

According to UN figures, 12,360 migrants from Libya have arrived in Italy and Malta since March. Five boats carrying a total of 2,400 people, including many women and children, arrived off Lampedusa at the weekend.

About 10% of the boat people are believed to have perished during the voyages, either from drowning, exposure or a lack of food and water. Most of the people now leaving Libya are understood to be of sub-Saharan origin, including Somalis and Eritreans who were working in Libya before the war began earlier this year.

Under a previous agreement with the EU, Gaddafi prevented them and other economic migrants from countries such as Niger and Chad from trying to travel on to Europe.

Italy says about 25,000 illegal immigrants, mostly from Tunisia, have arrived on its territory since the start of the year, while France is leading efforts to suspend the EU’s internal open borders policy to halt migrant flows.

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Kulhadd induna li Gaddafi qed jaghmel hekk apposta. Minbarra il-Ministru KMB. Ghax dan ferhan bli hadulna tal-EU. Pero mohhu ma tahx bizzejjed li ghad jridu jigu izjed eluf.
duncan abela
If the Nato forces are truly humanitarian the solution is simple. Intercept the boats and transfer the evacuees to a safe haven in Eastern Libya. The UNHCR can then offer protection and subsistence in these safe camps. Subsequently they can then be processed within these camps to assess if any merit refugee status into Europe. Certainly the rebel forces are not in a position to refuse such a life saving humanitarian arrangement especially if they want continued support from the Nato forces.