Italy and France seek EU-Libya accord to curb illegal immigration
Oct 23, 2009, 14:54 GMT
Rome – Italy and France want the European Union to clinch a deal with Libya aimed at helping the North African nation control its borders and stem the flown of illegal immigrants across the Mediterranean to Europe, the Italian government said Friday.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the appeal in a joint letter in which they also called for a strengthening of the EU's border patrol agency, Frontex, and a greater 'sharing of responsibility,' on immigration between EU member states.
The letter was sent to Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt – whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency – and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the statement from Berlusconi's office said.
It comes ahead of a EU summit scheduled in Brussels on October 29-30 when immigration is expected to feature among the topics discussed.
Berlusconi and Sarkozy stress in the letter how illegal immigration poses an 'important challenge,' to the EU and that the Mediterranean represents 'a benchmark for the credibility' of the EU's policies.
'Concrete decisions are needed,' to ensure that solidarity between the 27 members of the EU on matters of illegal immigration does not 'remain at the level of words,' Berlusconi and Sarkozy wrote.
Earlier this year Italy began deporting to Libya would-be immigrants intercepted in international waters, following the coming into effect of a controversial Rome-Tripoli agreement on illegal immigration.
The European Commission, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and US-based group Human Rights Watch have all expressed concerns over the policy.
Critics accuse Berlusconi's government of violating international accords by deporting would-be migrants to Libya before ascertaining whether they are political refugees and thus eligible for asylum in Italy.
Between May 6 – when the Rome-Tripoli pact came into effect – to August 30, Italy returned more than 750 would-be immigrants to Libya, Italian officials said.