- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

ROME — Italy is planning to send 150 police officers to Libya, along with aircraft and infrared tracking equipment, as a first step toward the creation of holding camps for illegal migrants passing through North Africa bound for Europe.

The deal between Italy and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime is seen widely as a pilot project for an EU policy of processing asylum seekers before they reach the European Union.

This effectively would subcontract the job of migration control to buffer states, which often have a record of harsh treatment of refugees.

The agreement begins this autumn with a mission to train Libyan officials. But the plan is for the Italian interior ministry to help establish migrant camps in Libya, which was an Italian possession from 1911 until the British conquest during World War II.

The Italians plan three refugee camps and already have the first batch of 6,000 tents and portable lavatories waiting for shipment once funds are released by the Italian Parliament.

The idea of EU holding centers in North Africa, the Balkans and Ukraine has been attacked by civil rights groups as slide toward “concentration camps.” The United Nations said that locating camps outside the European Union would violate international law.

Libya is not a signatory to the U.N. Geneva Convention on refugees and has been accused of widespread abuse of migrants.

EU justice ministers are expected to discuss ideas for holding camps in a meeting in The Hague today, but little agreement is expected.

Most of Europe’s northern states are opposed on human rights grounds, and France remains skeptical.

The scheme was first floated by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, last year but was deemed too controversial. It since has won support from German Interior Minister Otto Schilly, who has proposed Morocco as a site for EU camps and processing centers.

The proposals are gaining momentum in Brussels. The incoming EU justice commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione, backed the plan this month, warning that Europe faces a “time bomb” from uncontrolled immigration.

“We have to ask the transit countries to establish camps that would take in immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, for example, and offer them humanitarian aid and information about job possibilities in Europe. But they would also investigate, identify and send back those who would not be able to integrate in our society,” he said.

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