North Africa takes migration burden: agencies

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International agencies stressed on Tuesday that North African countries were bearing the burden of the exodus from Libya, as French and Italian leaders met to discuss a row over immigration into Europe.

"In terms of migration, the migratory pressure is not for the moment on European countries, it is on countries of North Africa," International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said.

"You have more than 600,000 people who have left Libya and transited through neighbouring countries; Tunisia, Egypt have kept their borders open, Chad and Mali and others have done the same," he told journalists.

The majority of those who have fled across the border were Tunisian or Egyptian migrant workers who had found jobs in the North African country.

"And yet we're looking at some 28,000 people who arrived on Lampedusa," Chauzy added, referring to the Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea which is the primary port of call for those trying to reach Europe.

Italy has complained for weeks of being left alone to cope with the arrival of migrants after unrest in North Africa this year, some fleeing the conflict in Libya, the majority economic refugees from Tunisia.

France, meanwhile, has sought to clamp down on mainly Tunisian migrants crossing from Italy after they were given temporary European permits by Italian authorities.

The UN refugee agency acknowledged that most of those who fled to Lampedusa were impoverished young Tunisian men seeking jobs but called for more solidarity in Europe.

"We have appealed a number of times to European countries to show solidarity with the countries on the front line, namely Italy and Malta," said Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

"But also we would also like to highlight the fact that the brunt of this crisis in Libya is being basically taken care of by the countries in northern Africa, primarily Tunisia itself with more than quarter of a million people arriving there, and by Egypt."

Italian media reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi plan to issue a joint letter to fellow European Union leaders calling for a revision of Europe's open-border treaty that would make it easier to impose temporary controls at the frontier.

© 2011 AFP

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