Italy-Libya: Schengen mission to focus on illegal immigration

Rome, 25 May (AKI) - A two day mission to Libya by members of the Italian parliament's Schengen commission will focus on the issue of illegal immigration to Europe from the Mediterranean. On arrival in the North African country on Wednesday, the parliamentary delegation will hold talks with top Libyan officials. The delegation will on Thursday visit an immigrant holding centre and meet the International Organisation for Migration's representative Laurence Hart.

"This is an extremely high-profile visit, politically and institutionally," the commission's president and ruling conservative People of Freedom party MP Margherita Boniver told Adnkronos International (AKI). She is heading the six-member delegation.

Boniver said the Italian delegation was invited to visit Libya by the foreign affairs secretary of the Libyan General People's Congress, Suleiman Shuhumi.

"Libya is a crucial country for Italy in the fight against illegal immigration and owing to the excellent relations we enjoy since the historic friendship and cooperation pact we signed," said Boniver,

Berlusconi in 2008 issued an historic apology for his country's occupation of Libya before World War II. Under the pact signed in August 2008, Italy and agreed to pay the North African nation five billion dollars over 20 years in reparations.

Italy and Libya agreed to boost energy, economic, industrial and cultural cooperation. They also pledged to work more closely together to fight illegal immigration, terrorism and organised crime.

Joint coastal patrols have turned back thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean since the pact entered into force in March, 2009, drawing sharp criticism from the United Nations, rights groups, the Catholic Church and the Council of Europe rights watchdog.

Libya withdrew billions of dollars from Swiss banks after Gaddafi's son Hannibal was briefly detained in a Swiss jail in July 2008. He and his wife were accused of beating their servants in Geneva.

In February, the country blocked entry to the country by the 25 European countries which have signed the Schengen treaty, including Switzerland.

Italy's foreign ministry Franco Frattini worked with other European leaders to try and resolve the bitter diplomatic row over visas.

Schengen rules involve eliminating border controls with other Schengen members while simultaneously strengthening border controls with non-member states.


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