Italy's interior minister says Libya is doing what it can to stop illegal immigration, but cannot fully patrol its long land and sea borders. The minister says the European Union needs to take steps to help stop illegal immigration from impoverished African countries.

Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu says illegal immigration is a phenomenon that cannot be addressed by just one or two countries. He said collaboration between Italy and Libya is progressing well, but Tripoli faces great difficulties in controlling its long sea and land borders. Libya is one of the main transit countries for illegal immigrants hoping to reach the European Union, and many try to reach Italy, because of its proximity to Northern Africa.

Mr. Pisanu said Libya is a country with 1700 kilometers of coastline and 4,500 kilometers of land borders, mostly desert. The minister said migration to Libya from Egypt, the Horn of Africa, Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa has increased in recent months because of poor crop yields in parts of Africa. Mr. Pisanu said Italy is assisting Libya as much as it can. 

"We supply technical assistance for the control of its borders, and train Libyan police on checking on false papers and managing its frontiers," he said.

Mr. Pisanu added that illegal immigrants are victims, who need protection and the way forward is to ensure regulated immigration.

He said the challenge is to stop the departure of illegal immigrants, and Italy will continue to work on bilateral accords with the countries of origin and transit of migrants.

But the minister acknowledged that the business of trafficking illegal immigrants continues to grow.

"Last year, a trip across the sea from Libya cost an illegal immigrant on average $1,200 to $1,500," he said.  "This year, it costs him $2,000 to $2,500."

The minister said these illegal immigrants often are exploited by organized crime for prostitution and illicit activities. He said over 30 percent of those detained in Italian prisons are illegal immigrants.

"Powerful international criminal organizations," he said, "organize and exploit the trafficking of illegal immigrants, producing an annual turnover that can now be compared to the annual turnover of drugs trafficking. "

Mr. Pisanu expressed hope that Britain, when it assumes the presidency of the European Union next month, will address the issue of illegal immigration from Africa. He said Europe must give Libya and Africa the collaboration they require to contain illegal immigration.

Europe has a historic debt toward Africa, the interior minister said, which it must honor. Europe, Mr. Pisanu said, must do much more to help Africa out its severe economic and social difficulties.