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NEWS | Tuesday, 02 June 2009

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$1 billion for Libya? No way

Libya demands $1,000,000,000 from the EU to stop illegal immigration. That’s our tax money we are talking about so I need to be convinced that Libya delivers!
First let us have a look at the facts. Illegal Immigration is an “alarming problem facing Malta” – not my choice of words but that of the director of the EU’s border control agency Frontex, Illka Laitinen, in September 2008.
Illegal immigration is challenging even residents of core villages in Malta such as Balzan, let alone other coastal areas such as Birzebbugia, Marsa, and St Paul’s Bay. More than 15,000 illegal immigrants have arrived in Malta since 2002.
Illegal immigration is a direct result of human trafficking – a vast operation run by gangs operating with impunity from Libya. Although Libya has a vast coastline there are few points of departure where boats can be fuelled and launched. The port of departure from Libya up to now has almost invariably been the Port of Al Zuwarah – this happens to be one of the closest points of departure to Malta.
Illegal immigrants who come to Malta pay money to these human traffickers in Libya and traffickers then provide boats to these illegal immigrants to enable them to cross over from Libya into Malta.
Human trafficking is a crime under international law. Libya has been refusing to abide by its international obligations. EU proposals such as voluntary burden sharing between EU countries have failed – so that the European Parliament’s Committee for Civil Liberties’ acceptance in principle that burden sharing should be on a compulsory basis is very welcome.
However compulsory burden sharing is unlikely to become legally binding before 2011. Meanwhile even Italy has been refusing to accept illegal immigrants rescued close to the shores of Lampedusa, an integral part of Italy.
The source of the problem of illegal immigration is Libya. This is because Gaddafi has his mind set on Europe being in debt with Africa because of its colonial past. Gaddafi has been urging Africans to emigrate to Europe illegally, and is on record stating that “we have the right to go to Europe because we go after our wealth; they (the Europeans) left us empty – we go after our stolen wealth.” (Reuters).

A solution
The solution can be achieved in the same way that a solution was reached on the Lockerbie bombing. Lockerbie, the terrorist attack on flight PAN AM 103 on December 21, 1988, killed 270 individuals and was masterminded by Libyan agents. Initially, the United Nations invoked economic sanctions against Libya.
It was only after Nelson Mandela put moral pressure on Gaddafi that he accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. Mandela negotiated a deal in which the United Nations would not press criminal charges against Gaddafi, provided that he accepted civil responsibility. Gaddafi agreed, accepted civil responsibility for the bombing and agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the Lockerbie victims.
Gaddafi also agreed to deliver the Libyan suspects to an international tribunal for processing in a court of law. Only after Gaddafi agreed to these conditions did the UN lift the sanctions imposed against Libya on September 12, 2003.
I am convinced therefore that this is what we must do: combine diplomatic pressure with economic sanctions.
Malta – so what can we do?
For several years we have been asking Libya to fulfill its international and humanitarian obligations. To no avail, Libya has continued to ignore our pleas.
Illegal immigrants continue to leave the Libyan coast and they keep invading Malta’s shores – causing severe human distress, sometimes drowning; compounded by social, medical and financial problems to our country.
Although very recently (May 7, 2009) Libya accepted the return of a group of illegal immigrants rescued at sea. This may be the first sign that the increasing pressure we have been applying on Libya is starting to work. Clearly we need to keep up the pressure – to force Libya to fulfill its obligations.
As a member of the EU we have the power that comes from our membership. The time for talking is now over. We must now be prepared to take all the necessary actions, diplomatic as well as any other measure – including EU sanctions against Libya – if Libya does not adhere to its legal and moral obligations.
I will be frank with Libya: speaking our minds clearly and frankly to a country which subjected us to gunboat diplomacy is what is required.
I was the first person to reveal that the UNHCR has an office in Libya. Some have claimed that returning illegal immigrants to Libya can mean the violation of immigrants’ human rights. Not so.
Although Libya is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it allows the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission Refugees ) to operate an office in Tripoli. The UNHCR must fulfill its obligations and ensure refugee protection in Libya.
Let’s be frank with Libya in the EU. If elected as an MEP, to Libya I will say frankly: fulfill your international and humanitarian obligations – or suffer the consequences. Libya should expect no benefits from the EU until such time as it fulfills its humanitarian and international obligations. Actions speak louder than words. Illegal immigration from Libya will be stopped.



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