Libyan leader Muammar Gadd­afi’s request for €5 billion a year from the EU to stop Africans crossing over to Europe illegally is under discussion at high-level talks in Tripoli.

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s visit to the Libyan capital is aimed at boosting ongoing discussions on the possibility of signing the first cooperation framework agreement between the EU and Libya, the European Commission said yesterday.

The agreement would cover various areas but primarily the fight against illegal immigration. The meetings will run until tomorrow.

Libya has been postponing such a visit from high-ranking EU officials for the past years and Ms Malmström’s predecessor, Jacques Barrot failed to hold face-to-face talks with Tripoli as his planned visit kept being postponed by the Libyan authorities. Talks have been held for the past two years at a technical level but are far from being concluded.

The EU has made it clear it wants to help Libya fight illegal immigration while guaranteeing the rights of sub-Saharan Africans to claim asylum status. Libya is not a signatory to the UN Geneva Convention for the protection of refugees.

It is estimated that thousands of sub-Saharan Africans enter Libya from its southern borders every month intending to journey to Europe.

During her trip, Ms Malmström, who is accompanied by Commissioner Stefan Fule res­ponsible for the neighbourhood policy, will be also visiting Libya’s southern borders to see how Libyans are coping with the flow of immigrants.

Asked whether the talks would involve the financial demands made by Libya to prevent more immigrants from crossing over to Malta and Italy, a Commission spokesman said “financial compensations will be part of the deal”.

During a visit to Italy last month, Colonel Gaddafi asked the EU for €5 billion a year to prevent hundreds of thousands of “ignorant” Africans from “turning Europe black”.

Although the Commission had refrained from commenting directly on Libya’s demands it had cited ongoing talks on possible cooperation on the issue.

On the other hand, Malta had said Col Gaddafi’s request for compensation was justified although it refrained from entering a debate on the actual amount.

Ms Malmström is expected to report on the conclusions of her talks in Libya to the EU Justice Ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday. Almost all immigrants who have landed in Malta and southern Italy in the last few years started the final lap of their journey to Europe from Libya.

The flow of irregular immigrants towards Malta and Italy has ebbed substantially since May 2009 when joint patrol missions between Rome and Tripoli started taking place in Libya’s territorial waters.

This success has led to the Maltese authorities withdrawing from a planned EU anti-migration patrol mission off the coast of Malta to have been conducted in summer by the EU’s border control agency Frontex.

The so-called pushback policy has elicited the protests of several humanitarian organisations as well as the Vatican since immigrants from war-torn countries with potential refugee status were being sent back to Libya.

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