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EU urges Maghreb states to act against trafficking

BRUSSELS – EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot has urged north African countries to crack down on human traffickers helping bring illegal immigrants into Europe.

"These states must act quite brutally and get their hands on these dens of traffickers, which are very often linked to organised crime and prostitution," he told AFP in an interview.

His remarks came ahead of a visit on Friday and Saturday to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where would-be illegals regularly jump ship on their way to the EU, and Malta, which has also been hit by the immigrant wave.

Barrot said the EU’s relations with Maghreb nations – Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia – were complex and that most refuse to accept agreements on re-admitting illegals who pass through on their way to Europe.

"Morocco has rejected readmission agreements and Algeria does not want one under any circumstances," said Barrot, adding that Libya was also reluctant to allow the EU to carry out maritime surveillance near its coast.

One of the main planks of the EU’s immigration policy is to provide aid to poorer countries which would-be immigrants are leaving or transiting through on their way to what many see as their Eldorado in Europe.

"A global approach is fundamental. Without one, we will never be able to resolve the problem," Barrot said.

The commissioner said that his visit to the Mediterranean islands was aimed at better understanding the phenomenon but also at ensuring that clandestine immigrants and asylum seekers are treated correctly.

Some 67,000 people crossed the Mediterranean in 2008 to seek asylum in Europe, more than half of them arrived in Italy and Malta, according to the UN’s refugee office.

Almost 300 clandestine immigrants landed on Lampedusa on 4 March, most from northern Africa.

The reception centre on the tiny island is overcrowded and has been the scene of violent protests by some migrants opposed to Italy’s new policy of quick repatriation.

AFP / Expatica