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EU Proposes Cooperation on Immigration With Libya

The European Commission has proposed a program of technical support, training and aid for Libya to help it cope with a flood of immigration from Africa and the Middle East that feeds directly into Europe. The plan came up for discussion at a meeting of E.U. Justice and Interior ministers in Luxembourg.

Under the plan, European officials could train workers on Libya's borders and give Tripoli expertise and software for its visa processing system. The proposal by Brussels does not include supplying helicopters or boats for border control, and also does not mention creating processing camps, a controversial idea backed by some member states last year.

Libya is a transit country for refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East who travel by boat to Europe. Libya's vast and poorly defined land borders, which are in mostly desert-covered territory, and its large sea border provide ample opportunity for illegal migration.

E.U. Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, says Libya is an important country for Europe.

"We need to involve Libya with a view to a partnership with Europe being established," said Franco Frattini. "This is important. And as you know, Libya does have considerable influence on other African countries. In particular, sub-Saharan African countries."

Spain and Italy are especially interested because they are the first stop for migrants entering the European Union. Italy employs a policy of fast deportation to Libya.

But there are human-rights concerns. Amnesty International E.U. Office Director Dick Oosting says people forcibly returned to Libya from Europe risk degraded detention conditions and expulsion to another country where they could face prison and torture.

Moves to engage with Libya are also politically sensitive, because Brussels has no diplomatic relations with Tripoli. The plan, if agreed to by Libya and the European Union could start by the end of this year.

On a related topic, the meeting agreed that Poland would be home to the new E.U. external-border control agency, a key post as the European Union expands eastward. Putting an E.U. agency in a country is seen as an important political gesture and also creates jobs and generates business for the nation.