Gaddafi hits back at West by opening immigrant floodgates
Published 08/04/2011 | 05:00
Libya is unleashing a wave of migrants against Europe in retaliation for the military strikes against the country.
The opening of immigration floodgates came as Italy announced that it would grant travel permits to more than 20,000 Tunisian refugees who have reached its southern-most islands in recent weeks.
Libya appears to be making good on threats issued at the start of the coalition's bombing campaign, when Moussa Ibrahim, the government spokesman, said the regime would no longer stop sub-Saharan and other refugees from trying to enter Europe by boat.
Col Gaddafi warned two years ago that he had the ability to turn Europe "black" unless the European Union agreed to pay his regime at least £4bn (€4.6bn) a year to block the arrival of illegal immigrants.
He was accused by Italian MPs of holding Europe to ransom but repeated the threat at a summit last year.
Yesterday the Italian government said the temporary permits would grant the refugees freedom of movement within the visa-free Schengen area, but in reality most wanted to head to France.
"The overwhelming majority of the migrants want to join friends and relatives in France or other European countries," said Roberto Maroni, Italy's interior minister.
Paris reacted angrily to the move. Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, said the country would not tolerate "a wave of immigration".
"To move freely within the Schengen bloc, it is not sufficient to have a residence permit. You also need to have identity documents and above all, proof of economic resources," Mr Gueant said.
The Schengen zone excludes Britain and Ireland, but migrants could attempt to enter illegally from the continent.
The Tunisians were among nearly 26,000 people who have managed to reach the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost territory, since January, when president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled by a popular revolt.
In neighbouring Libya, Col Muammar Gaddafi's regime is alleged to have been actively encouraging boatloads of migrants to leave the country's shores since March 22, when the first vessel sailed from Tajoura, a suburb of Tripoli.
Libyan armed forces and militias are reportedly turning a blind eye to the thousands of people, many of them sub-Saharan migrant workers, who assemble on beaches willing to pay several hundred pounds to be transported to Lampedusa.
The United Nations estimates that almost 450,000 foreigners have been uprooted by the fighting in Libya but only 218,000 have been able to return home. (© Daily Telegraph, London)