x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Libya PM 'determined' to tackle illegal immigration

Ali Zeidan says he has asked the EU for training and equipment to prevent illegal immigrants from leaving Libya for Europe.

TRIPOLI // The Libyan prime minister Ali Zeidan said yesterday he was “determined” to tackle illegal immigration, two days after a boat carrying migrants sank between his country and Malta, killing dozens.

Thirty-three people died and more than 200 people were rescued after the boat capsized on Friday after setting out from the Libyan port of Zwara. That incident, a week after another shipwreck off Italy left at least 359 dead, prompted the Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat to say “we are just building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea”.

“We are determined to deal with the problem,” Mr Zeidan said yesterday during a news conference with Mr Muscat.

Mr Zeidan said he had asked for training and equipment from the European Union to prevent illegal immigrants leaving Libya for Europe.

He said he had also asked the EU for “access to their satellite system” to allow Libyan authorities to monitor their maritime and land borders.

Mr Zeidan said such access would be a “great help”.

After arriving yesterday for a short visit to Tripoli, Mr Muscat said he had discussed boosting security cooperation and combating illegal immigration, and would relay suggestions to his European counterparts.

Most of those who died in Friday’s shipwreck were Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war.

Some 180 migrants who were saved were taken yesterday by Italian and Maltese officials to Porto Empedocle on Sicily.

Some survivors said that they had been shot at by warring trafficking gangs as their boat left Libyan waters.

The Syrian national Mohammed, 34, said he had paid $4,800 (Dh17,600) for the trip to seek a better life in Europe, crossing through Egypt to Libya.

“When we got on the boat, Libyan militia put their machine guns to our heads and demanded more money. I had $5,000 and they took this too,” Mohammed said from a detention camp in Malta.

He said the Libyan gunmen followed them for four or five hours.

“All of a sudden, they started shooting at us and the boat. They injured two people with their bullets. All I could think of at that time was protect my two young children.”

Mr Muscat said there were conflicting accounts about the shooting, with some survivors accusing border guards of opening fire and others pointing the finger at militiamen.

Mr Zeidan said he was unable to confirm the incident, but said that authorities had opened an investigation.

Libyan authorities have previously requested Western aid, saying their fledgling government is not yet able to patrol the country’s 4,000-kilometre border with six countries or its 1,700-kilometre coastline.

* Agence France-Presse