TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya will scale back its efforts to stem the flow of illegal migrants from Africa to Europe unless the European Union pays it 5 billion euros a year, a government minister said on Monday.
Oil exporter Libya intercepts thousands of sub-Saharan Africans each year crossing its territory on their way to Europe, but says it is not fair that it has to shoulder the burden of defending the EU’s borders.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, on a visit to Italy in August, demanded that the EU make the annual payment of 5 billion euros to cover its costs.
“If there is no money, there will be no security, there will be no guards (on the borders),” Abdalfatah Yunes Elabedi, Libya’s public security minister, told reporters at a meeting of north African and southern European interior ministers.
“We thought the situation would not reach this point because it would be a disaster for the Europeans.
“Either they do what they have to do, in which case we will be grateful to them, or they will bear responsibility for their decision,” he said at the meeting in Tripoli.
The minister said that, as part of the funding row, Libya had already suspended some projects related to combating illegal migration.
Each year thousands of migrants enter Libya, cross the desert to reach the Mediterranean coast and there try to find a boat for the perilous journey across to Europe. They usually sail towards Italy or Malta, but many drown on the way.
For the past few years, Libya has stepped up efforts to intercept migrants on its soil and in its coastal waters. Under an agreement with Rome, it has also taken back migrants who have been removed from Italian territory.
International human rights groups accuse Libya of mistreating migrants it detains, an allegation it has denied.
“We have about 4,000 policemen on the Libyan land and sea borders and they have .... vehicles, they have equipment, supplies, expenses and salaries. These are all burdens on Libya,” Elabedi said.
“The EU, except for Italy, has until now not offered anything tangible. We are asking them for a specific amount of money as a (compensation for the) cost,” he said.
There are no reliable figures for the number of migrants who use Libya as a stepping stone for reaching Europe.
The International Organization for Migration says migrants account for about 10 percent of Libya’s six million population, but that only a minority travel on to Europe. Most of them stay on and work in Libya.
The European Commission announced in October it will spend 50 million euros to help Libya tackle illegal migration and protect migrants’ rights.