By Houda Mzioudet
Tripoli, 11 May 2014:
The European Union says it is amazed at accusations from the acting Minister of Interior, Saleh . . .[restrict]Mazegh, that it has been “lax” on the issue of illegal immigration in Libya.
He made the accusation during a press conference held in Tripoli on Saturday. He threatened Libya would open its borders if Europe did not take seriously Libya’s contribution in addressing illegal immigration. Libya “demands actions and not words”, he said, according to the Libyan Ministry of Interior Facebook page.
The EU would “pay dearly if it did not work with the Libyan government in stopping the sweeping flood of illegal immigrants through the Libyan territory”, he declared in language seen as reminiscent of the Qaddafi era. He drew attention to increasing rates of disease and crime, as well as the deterioration of the security situation. These, he claimed, were due to the presence of hundreds of thousands of illegal African migrants in the country.
EU ambassador and Head of Delegation in Libya Nataliya Apostolova expressed her surprise at Mazegh’s statements. Speaking to the Libya Herald, she said that Mazegh’s statement was “extremely worrying”. There appeared to be an attempt to use the issue to put pressure on the EU.
She was looking for a clarification of Mazegh’s statements, she said, adding that there had been a request from the head of the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) in Libya to the Minister of Justice to discuss the issue.
Last Thursday, the migrant issue was one among many that Mazegh discussed with French Minister of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve while in Paris. There was no indication at the time, however, that the acting minister felt that Europe was not taking the issue seriously.
It has been estimated that over a thousand illegal migrants a day, African and Asian, leave Libya’s shores on boats of varying standards hoping to reach Europe. They can pay around $1,000 each for the trip. In some instances, it is said that the racket involves local officials. The vast majority make it although there are tragedies such as the most recent off the shore at Garabulli.
EUBAM in Libya is not involved in preventing illegal immigration. Rather it is helping in training the Libyan organisations improve border security and control.
The spat comes just days after EU High Representative of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, announced the widely expected appointment of a personal envoy for Libya. Bernardino Leon, an experienced Spanish diplomat, and until now the EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean region, will be based in Brussels as her adviser, co-ordinating and facilitating the EU’s policy and actions on Libya, and visiting the country regularly.
Apostolova described Leon’s assignment as “important”, showing “commitment of the EU towards Libya”, while noting his strong experience in the region. She added that he would serve as a good mediator between Libya and the EU.
The UK also recently appointed a special adviser on Libya, Jonathan Powell. The US also plans to appoint one. [/restrict]