Libya threatens EU over illegal immigrants

Illegal migrants rest at the immigration center on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. (File photo: Reuters)

Libya's interim interior minister said Saturday Tripoli could "facilitate" those people seeking to get to Europe illegally unless the European Union helps it combat the problem.

"I'm warning the world and Europe in particular -- if they do not assume their responsibilities, Libya could facilitate the transit of this flood" of immigrants towards Europe, Salah Mazek told a news conference.

He said Libya was "suffering" because thousands of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were spreading disease, crime and drugs in the North African nation.

"Libya has paid the price. Now it's Europe's turn to pay," Mazek added.

For years, Libya has been a springboard for hundreds of thousands of Africans seeking a better life in Europe.

Many cram into makeshift boats to attempt the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Malta or the Italian island of Lampedusa off Sicily.

Hundreds lose their lives each year.

More than 22,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year -- 10 times more than the number during the same period in 2013.

The regime of former strongman Muammar Qaddafi -- deposed and killed in the 2011 uprising -- turned on and off the flow of illegals as a way of exerting pressure on Brussels.

Shortly before the uprising erupted in February that year, he demanded five billion euros a year from the European Union to solve the problem.

Mazek said he had just returned from a trip to France where he asked his counterpart for help to tackle the problem, but without specifying the nature of any such assistance.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:43 - GMT 06:43