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Brussels

EU worried over Libyan refugees

Published torsdag 24 februari 2011 kl 15.03
Protests on the streets of Tripoli. (Photo: AP/Scanpix)

Fears of a giant wave of refugees fleeing from the bloodshed in Libya is the burning subject of the European Union migration ministers' meeting in Brussels today and for the governments of Sweden as well as all other EU members.

Responsible for EU migration and refugee policies is Swedish commissioner Cecilia Malmström, who defends the now much-criticized agreement signed by the EU and the Gadaffi regime.

While the Swedish and the world-wide mass media continues to report on the violent attacks on protest demonstrators in Libya, reports are also pouring from Libya's borders and Mediterranean ports as the Libyans help swell the flow of refugees already coming to southern Europe from a turbulent North Africa.

The regularly-scheduled meeting of EU migration ministers in Brussels has now shifted a scorching spotlight on what Italian ministers and others are calling a Libyan refugee wave of biblical proportions - reaching perhaps 300,000.

The rotating EU chairmanship under Hungary wants to see boosted financial support to the EU's Frontex forces - helping guard EU borders, stopping the inflow of refugees.

At the meeting, the Swedish migration minister Tobias Billström has brushed these Italian fears aside, insisting that the 5,000 North Africans who have so far made it to the Italian island of Lampedusa and to Malta as minor compared to Sweden receiving 32,000 refugees last year - adding no doubt to the outrage of some EU colleagues that Sweden is small and that Italy is large - and that neither Malta or Italy are poor countries needing handouts.

The Swedish minister who has received sharp criticism at home for some of his blunt statements on refugees insists he has much support for this Swedish point of view from other EU members unwilling to help unload the Libyan burden from southern members.

Swedish EU commissioner Cecilia Malmström at the meeting has long been arguing in vain for a common EU refugee policy sharing the burden of the desperate banging on the doors of what some critics call Fortress Europe - and admitting that EU members are jealously guarding their own interests instead of working out a brotherly approach.

Speaking to Swedish Television News in Brussels, Commissioner Malmström comments on the reports of such a giant wave of Libyan refugees coming to the doors of the European Union, saying we can't speculate on the number - since everything depends on what happens in Libya itself.

She adds that the EU ministers have to discuss this together and decide for example IF temporary refugee status could be given to the Libyans.

Asked about the recent EU agreement with Libya granting the regime large funds to help stop the flow of refugees and to improve conditions for refugees in this North African state, she insists that no money has been paid out since one of the conditions was that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was to be part of the agreement, and that when Gdaffi threw out the UNHCR, this killed the deal.

Asked if it wasn't navie to think that Gaddifi could care about human rights and refugees when he so easily orders the shooting and murdering of his own citizens, Malmström agrees - but adds that the UNHCR insists there are at least 9,000 refugees in Libya living in horrible conditions, and the choice was to do nothing or try to reach an agreement with Libya to try to help them.

Regarding the status of the EU agreement today, the Swedish commission says with Libya falling apart and the regime showing its ugly face by shooting its own citizens, the agreement is worthless .. and that energy should be used to try to take care of people fleeing to EU countries instead:

Does she regret signing this treaty with Gadaffi's Libya? No, since all EU countries wanted some kind of co-operation to help identify refugees in Libya and improve their conditions. She says this is the first agreement with Libya mentioning the words "human rights" and asylum and the name of the UNHCR.

Does the EU sign agreement with anyone - even dictators? No, she emphasizes that the EU has signed agreements with all Mediterranean nations except for Libya - and this was an attempt to include even the refugees in Libya.

Swedish Television news has also been interviewing both Libyan and Tunisians fleeing from Libya at the border with Tunisia, some angrily accusing the Tunisian military of failing to help evacuate refuges fleeing from the blood bath in Libya and failing to protect Libyans from attacks ordered by the regime:

The Swedish report points out that ambulances and tent hospitals have been set up at the border … and that Tunisians predict a growing flood of refuges coming from Libya:

An earlier visit of Swedish Television news to the refugee-jammed Italian island of Lampelusa reported on Italian residents fearing being overswamped with North African refugees:

The Swedes also interviewed members of international relief organizations --fearing that EU seems more interested in bolstering its frontier guard Frontex to block refugees instead of helping them - doing little to dismantle the much-despised image of an cold-hearted, intolerant Fortress Europe.

While the EU's migration ministers wrap up their session in Brussels – again underlining the EU's lack of common refugee police – observers are waiting to see if EU prime ministers meeting in the Belgian capital in early March might have a more compassionate solution to the human refugee tragedy of North Africa.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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