European and African nations met in Libya on Wednesday to seek ways to stem the rising tide of illegal migration. The Libyan foreign minister, Abd al-Rahman Shalgam, told the conference that EU countries must provide assistance to Libya.  Sabina Castelfranco has more from the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Libya is one of the main transit countries for illegal migrants, along with Morocco, Senegal and Mauritania. Every year thousands of sub-Saharan migrants try to reach Libya in the hope of then crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. They are fleeing poverty and hope that at the end of their journey they will find a better life.

In an effort to increase cooperation between African nations and the European Union, Libya agreed to host the first ministerial conference on migration in Tripoli. For two days, delegates from the African Union and European Union are discussing ways to curb illegal immigration.

Libya's foreign minister, Abd al-Rahman Shalgam, says this conference shows just how urgent the problem is.

"To have this gathering today here in Libya it means that the whole continent, the two continents, Europe and Africa, are completely aware [of] the importance and the complexity of this issue and we hope that we can have a declaration, a political declaration and a plan of action of what we can do on the ground regarding these poor people who are suffering, starving, civil wars, epidemics to keep them on their own soil,? he said.

Shalgam says that, on its own, Libya cannot control the tide of illegal migration, because its territory is too large. Libya, he says, has more than 4,000 kilometers of borders on the Sahara desert and about 2,000 kilometers on the Mediterranean Sea.  That is why, he says, it needs the assistance of the European Union.

EU officials say they understand the problems Libya faces and have offered assistance, including equipment and staff.

Shalgam also says more projects are needed on the ground in Africa to keep people in their own countries. African leaders agree that more jobs need to be created so that people will not have to leave their countries to earn a living.

At the conference, discussions also focused on ways to widen opportunities for legal migration.

The EU justice and interior commissioner, Franco Frattini, on Wednesday said the EU plans to provide African countries with information on job opportunities in Europe through the establishment of a European Job Mobility Portal. He also said the EU Commission would propose new legislation that imposes penalties against employers of illegal immigrants.

Frattini also spoke of the need to support African states with strategies to combat the trafficking in human beings. He said instruments need to be in place to prosecute traffickers and offer protection to victims, with special attention to minors and women.