Last updated: 28 April, 2012

Libya struggles with illegal migrants and arms trafficking

Libya lacks the resources to control its borders, which are a conduit for weapons and for thousands of illegal immigrants seeking the shores of Europe, an official said on Saturday.

“More than 1,000 persons are coming here daily” from Egypt and all over Africa, said General Hamed al-Shalwy, who handles international cooperation for the defence ministry’s border guards.

“They see Libya as a first step to paradise” in Europe, he told AFP.

For years, Libya has been a destination and a transit country to European shores for hundreds of thousands of African immigrants.

The regime of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi used immigration as a means to pressure the West, demanding exorbitant aid to help stop the trafficking.

The new authorities have passed a budget of 1.5 billion dinars ($1.2 billion/905 million euros) towards border security of which 150 million have been received but not spent, Shawly said.

What the oil-rich nation lacks most is equipment and manpower, with only 16,000 men — half of them former rebels — to monitor the country’s long coastline and vast desert borders, he said.

“We are trying our best,” he said, acknowledging it is an uphill battle.

Libya, Shalwy said, is likewise struggling to stem an outflow of weapons to neighbouring countries, and has urged US, British and EU diplomats to help.

They have to “find solutions, do anything, help us,” he said, adding that agreements were in the pipeline but none had come into effect.

To be effective, border guards need training and helicopters, he stressed.

Libya shares borders with Tunisia and Algeria to the west and Egypt to the east; while the Sahara desert stretches across its southern frontiers with Niger, Chad and Sudan.

In February, Algeria uncovered a large cache of weapons believed to originate from Libya, including dozens of shoulder-held missile launchers that can be used to shoot down airliners.