Italy fears Libya migrant exodus

2011-02-23 13:03
Milan - Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Wednesday he feared an immigrant exodus on a biblical scale if Muammar Gaddafi is ousted, predicting up to 300 000 Libyans could try to flee their country.

Italy is already grappling with a mass influx of immigrants from Tunisia since the fall of its veteran ruler but Frattini said that would be nothing compared to the number of immigrants that could flee neighbouring Libya.

"There would be an exodus of biblical proportions, a problem that Italy cannot, must not underestimate," Frattini told the Corriere della Sera daily.

"We know what awaits us when the Libyan regime falls: A wave of 200-300 000 immigrants. That would be ten times the number of Albanians in the 1990s" who headed to Italy following the demise of the communist regime in Tirana.

Libya shut down illegal immigration flows across the Mediterranean to Italy after signing a friendship treaty with its former colonial overlord in 2008 that facilitated massive investments between the two countries.

But Italian fears that the flow would resume if Gaddafi is ousted have been fuelled by the arrival of thousands of Tunisians on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa since Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled last month.

The boatloads of immigrants have overwhelmed authorities on the tiny island and prompted Italy to appeal for emergency funds from the European Union.

Gas supplies cut

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has developed close ties with Gaddafi, with Libya accounting for 13% of Italy's gas supplies and almost a quarter of its oil.

But the growing turmoil in Libya led to the halt of gas supplies on Tuesday after Italy's ENI suspended some of its operations in the energy-rich state.

Frattini said it was hard for the government in Rome to envisage a scenario without Gaddafi, who came to power in 1969, at the helm in Tripoli.

"The problem is that, to an extent, Gaddafi is Libya. We don't know anything else. There are no other politicians or political parties. And at the moment, it is impossible to imagine a future after him," the foreign minister said.

The anti-Gaddafi uprising has sent shockwaves through the Italian business world, with the stock market in Milan suffering sharp drops this week, mainly due to companies linked to Libya.

Italy ruled the country between 1911 and 1942.

Ambassador resigns

Meanwhile, the Libyan ambassador to Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei has resigned from his posts, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, reportedly in protest at Gaddafi's crackdown on the Libyan people.

Salaheddin M El Bishari told The Jakarta Post newspaper that it was his "personal decision" and he was worried for the safety of his family back in Libya.

"Soldiers are killing unarmed civilians mercilessly. Using heavy weaponry, fighter jets and mercenaries against its own people. It is not acceptable. I have had enough of it. I don’t tolerate it anymore," he said.

"I have submitted my resignation as secretary of the Libyan People's Council in Indonesia in response to what's going on in my country."

The ambassador was not available to comment on the report but an Indonesian foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed that he had notified the government of his decision to resign.

Read more on:    muammar gaddafi  |  libya  |  italy  |  north africa  |  uprisings

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