The overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi has had a positive effect on Malta in halting illegal immigration, according to Frontex.

In its latest report, the EU’s border control agency noted a significant drop in the number of crossings on the central Mediterranean route (CMR) for the third quarter of 2011.

It said the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime brought illegal crossings from Libya to Malta to almost a standstill.

“It is worth noting that since the National Transitional Council successfully gained control of Tripoli, the flows of migrants from Libya stopped abruptly at the beginning of August,” Frontex reported.

Following the fall of the 42-year regime, migrants crossing the route were mostly from Tunisia and Egypt.

The CMR – which consists of transfers from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya towards the EU, mostly via Malta and southern Italy (Lampedusa and Sicily) – has been one of the most active in illegal migration towards the EU’s shores over the past years.

Statistics obtained from the Home Affairs Ministry confirm Frontex’s analysis.

While between January and June 2011 about seven boats with 1,530 irregular migrants reached Malta from Libya, no arrivals were registered from July.

Malta’s immigration problem has always stemmed from Libya and the authorities made big diplomatic efforts over the past years to persuade the North African country to guard its borders. However, it was a known secret that Col Gaddafi was using irregular immigrants to pressure the EU.

The problem was only “controlled” in 2010 when the Italian government, under Silvio Berlusconi, struck a deal with the Libyan regime to start joint anti-migration patrols in Libya’s territorial waters. This came in exchange of billions of euros in projects, ranging from building new roads and infrastructure around Tripoli, to the donation of six patrol boats to the Libyans.

Col Gaddafi did not really hide his agenda and, at one point, had even threatened the EU it would be invaded with “black ignorant Africans” if it did not pay Libya €5 billion a year to patrol its borders.

The largest number of irregular immigrants reaching Malta from Libya in the past years was registered in 2008 when 2,775 migrants arrived on 84 boat landings.

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