Gaddafi seeks €5 billion a year to halt EU-bound migrants

Katie Kahle

Rome (dpa) – Libyan leader Moammer Gaddafi has called on the European Union to pay Libya at least 5 billion euros (6.4 billion US dollars) per year to stop illegal immigrants from Africa, Italian media reported Tuesday.

He made his statement during a visit to Rome where he also met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Libya was a gateway to Europe, Gaddafi said late on Monday, adding it was up to Europe to prevent the continent from turning into another Africa.

Gaddafi’s remarks prompted criticism by the aid organization “Pro Asyl” which said Europe should not cooperate with a dictatorship that had no respect for human beings.

Under a 2009 agreement, Rome immediately deports would-be immigrants found in international waters, a policy rejected by opposition leaders, rights activists and the Catholic Church in Italy.

“This chumming-up to Gaddafi, the millions of euros which have already flown from Brussels to Libya for curbing (illegal) migration, and the EU’s lack of action in face of the violations of international law, are among the most detestable aspects of European refugee politics,” said Karl Kopp, European Spokesman of Pro Asyl.

More than 1,400 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean had been sent back to Gaddafi’s detention centres by the Italian coast guard between May and December of 2009 alone, he said.

Laura Boldrini, Italian Spokeswoman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Monday also highlighted the plight of the African migrants caught in the Mediterranean who often disappeared in Libya after being sent back to Tripoli.

In early June, Tripoli had ordered the closure of the UNHCR’s base in Libya.

Boldrini’s comments were echoed by Amnesty International which called on Berlusconi to press Gaddafi on the human rights violations in Libya.

During his visit, the fourth in two years, Gaddafi hosted Berlusconi in a Berber tent pitched on the grounds of the Libyan embassy in Rome. Gaddafi is due to return to Libya later on Tuesday.