Libya’s interim interior minister has warned that Tripoli could “facilitate” the passage of those people seeking to get to Europe illegally unless the European Union (EU) helps it combat the problem.
“With regards to illegal immigration, I am warning the world, and the European Union in particular, that if they do not shoulder the responsibility with us, the state of Libya will take a position on this matter that could facilitate the quick passage of this flood of people through Libya since God has made us a transit point for this flood,” Salah Mazek told a news conference on Saturday.
Mazek said Libya was “suffering” because thousands of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were spreading disease, crime and drugs in the North African nation, the AFP news agency reported.
“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.
Former leader Muammar Gaddafi, deposed and killed in the 2011 uprising, turned on and off the flow of illegal migrants as a way of exerting pressure on Brussels.
Shortly before the uprising erupted in February that year, he demanded nearly $7bn a year from the EU to solve the problem.
Mazek said he had just returned from a trip to France where he had asked his counterpart for help to tackle the problem, but without specifying the nature of any such assistance.