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5/15: Libya given migrant patrol boats
Released 27 May 2009  By BBC

Libya given migrant patrol boats

May 15, 2009

The Italian government has given Libya three patrol boats as part of a deal aimed at combating the flow of illegal migrants making the crossing to Italy.

The agreement between Tripoli and Rome to maintain joint naval patrols in the Mediterranean was signed earlier this month and comes into force on Friday.

Libya has been a major staging post for migrants from Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa wanting to reach Europe.

Nearly 37,000 immigrants landed on Italian shores last year.

On Thursday, the Italian government passed a law which would impose fines of up to 10,000 euros ($13,000) on illegal immigrants and jailing for up to three years people who let them accommodation.

President Giorgio Napolitano later warned against a "rhetoric that does not hesitate to incorporate intolerant and xenophobic tones".

Joint patrols
At a ceremony in the Italian port of Gaeta on Thursday, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni presented Libya with three patrol boats with which to monitor its 1,770km (1,110 mile) Mediterranean coastline.

An additional three boats will be handed over to Tripoli in the coming weeks. The vessels will take part in joint patrols with the Italian navy from Friday.

The BBC's Rana Jawad in the Libyan capital says that for Italian officials the handover was a cause for celebration, marking the implementation of an accord it recently signed with Libya which seeks to limit illegal immigration.

Last week, the Italy transferred more than 200 stranded migrants to Tripoli after the Libyan government agreed to their immediate return.

Mr Maroni said the move marked a "turning point", but the UN's refugee agency and the Vatican both said the policy breached international law and risked turning back legitimate asylum seekers.

Libya has no functioning asylum system and is not a party to the 1951 UN convention relating to the status of refugees.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sparked further controversy when he defended the decision by saying he did not want to see a "multi-ethnic" Italy, but welcomed "only those who meet the conditions for political asylum".

Correspondents say many Italians believe their country is being left on its own by the EU to deal with the problem of illegal immigration and are ready to support stricter measures to control the flow.

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