EU wants Turkey, Libya to help fight illegal immigration

18th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

More than 67,000 people crossed the Mediterranean in 2008 to try to enter Europe illegally, according to the UN, and some of those have died at sea.

Stockholm -- The European Union will soon undertake tricky political talks with Turkey and Libya as they look for their help in cracking down on people-smuggling rings to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into Europe.

But some of the demands Ankara and Tripoli are making in exchange for their help could prove complicated.

EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot, in Stockholm for a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers on Thursday and Friday, told reporters he was preparing visits to the two countries.

"I plan to travel to Libya after the summer break and to Turkey in September or October," Barrot said, adding that he expected "an official invitation" from Turkey's interior minister soon.

More than 67,000 people crossed the Mediterranean in 2008 to try to enter Europe illegally, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and some of those have died at sea.

Turkey, an EU membership candidate, is considered the main transit country for illegal immigrants from Asia. They arrive on the Turkish coast, and from there make their way to the Greek islands, the gateway to the European Union.

Immigrants from Africa meanwhile tend to converge on Libya, where they set sail for the European Union via Malta or the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The fight against illegal immigration "can only be fought by resolving two issues: ties with Turkey and Libya," French Immigration Minister Eric Besson told AFP.

"When it comes to Turkey, their willingness to cooperate with the EU needs to be tested," he added. "The first comments by Turkey's interior minister have been encouraging. But now we have to see the concrete details."

"When it comes to Libya, one can see clearly that they can stop illegal immigration when they want to."

The 27-member bloc wants Turkey and Libya to crack down on the organised people-smuggling rings and to agree to take back the illegal immigrants who departed from their coasts, Barrot said.

It also wants Libya, which has not signed the Geneva Convention on human rights, to agree to protect persecuted people and make it easier for people to seek asylum there.

Barrot said he hoped to visit Libya together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.

"I know his administration is not very keen (on the trip), but he understands the problems," he said.

The UN refugee agency has harshly criticised bilateral agreements signed between Italy and Libya to turn back would-be refugees.

The Italian navy intercepted a boat carrying 82 migrants on July 1 near Lampedusa.

The UNHCR has alleged that some of the migrants were injured during transfer to a Libyan vessel, that some of their belongings were never returned to them and that their possible refugee status was never checked.

Barrot refused to comment on the allegations, which Italy has decried as "false."

He is determined to curb the influx of illegal immigrants, which threatens to destabilise some countries in Europe -- such as Greece -- and hampers EU efforts to handle legitimate asylum requests.

"If we don't link migration to development and diplomacy we won't succeed," he warned.

Yet a number of obstacles remain before Turkey and Libya agree to cooperate with the EU.

"Turkey is ready to sign readmission agreements" to take back immigrants who left from its territory," Barrot said.

"But it says it is merely a transit country and wants similar agreements signed with Pakistan and Afghanistan" to enable Ankara to send back the immigrants who came from those countries, he added.

The issues with Libya are even more complex.

"They are demanding impossible things," he said, explaining that Tripoli has put "enormous" financial demands on the EU in exchange for its help.

"We proposed 20 million euros, but they are asking for 200 to 300 million," sources in Barrot's entourage said.

Tripoli says it needs the funds to monitor its border with Niger and Chad.

Christian Spillmann/AFP/Expatica

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