Libyan Leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi and current chairman of the African Union, has compared the US to al-Qeada, accused the international community of ignoring Libya’s efforts in giving up weapons of mass destruction and maintained a deal to intercept and forcibly repatriate immigrants arriving in Italy from Africa. As current chairman of the African Union, Gaddafi, who “is morally bound to cater for the well being of Africans, has chosen to sign deals that compromise the very people he is representing”. The Libyan leader has signed a deal with the Italian Head of State, Silvio Berlusconi, “who is seeking to use him to increase his popularity rating”.
Speaking at the University of Rome, Gaddafi questioned what the difference was between al-Qaeda’s attacks and the US bombing of Tripoli in 1986, in which one of his own children was killed. “If al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has no state and is an outlaw, America is a state with international rules,” Gaddafi was quoted as saying. According to the radical leader who got into power through a coup de’tat 40 years ago, the US was responsible for letting al-Qaeda into Iraq, which under Saddam Hussein, he claims, was a fortress against terrorism. He urged the world to understand the reasons which motivate terrorists. He also said that Libya’s decision to give up ambitions to have weapons of mass destruction had not been appreciated by the international community: “We had hoped Libya would be an example to other countries, but we have not been rewarded by the world.”
Considered as a radical, undemocratic and repressive, Col. Gaddafi was prevented by left-wing senators from speaking in the main Senate chamber in Italy. Students of the University of Rome shouted slogans against the rector of the university for allowing him (Gaddafi) to speak there, and human rights organizations have condemned Italy for seeking to evade its obligations to migrants and asylum seekers, by signing an immigration agreement with Gaddafi’s Libya.
Visible scape goats and xenophobia
According to estimates made by ARCI, an NGO specialised in the defence of immigrants based in Italy, in 2007, approximately four million illegal immigrants had been registered in the country. Among the listed nationalities: Romanians, Albanians and Moroccans made up 30% of illegal immigrants. The fact that Sub-Saharan Africa is very poorly represented among the illegal immigrants challenges Silvio Berlusconi’s stance and cooperation agreements with Libya, to block the expected arrival of African migrants in Italy. According to Alessandro Capodanno a member of the NGO, the government has twisted the subject of immigration to suit its cause. “They easily refer to arrivals by sea of illegal immigrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa (preferred entry point for immigrants who want to enter Europe) because they are more visible. Yet these arrivals represent only a small percentage. Most illegal immigrants come from Eastern Europe by land,” he says.
This security cooperation is being signed to appease Italians, 76 per cent of whom support the government’s position. “The Prime Minister uses this rhetoric to create a climate of insecurity to attract voters. He accuses the immigrant for the ills of Italy, so that Italians wont focus on job insecurity and unemployment,” says Alessandro Capodanno. In addition, Silvio Berlusconi has upped his xenophobic attitude. About a week ago, during an electoral meeting, Mr. Berlusconi said: “When I walk through the streets of downtown Milan and I see people of non-Italian origin, I get the feeling I am no longer in an Italian or European city but rather in an African city. ”
Libya has been a major staging post for migrants from Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa wanting to reach Europe. In May an immigration agreement was signed between Tripoli and Rome to maintain joint naval patrols in the Mediterranean, aimed at combating the flow of illegal migrants making the crossing to Italy. Libya has no functioning asylum system and is not a party to the 1951 UN convention relating to the status of refugees, so despite the protest against the agreement, Gaddafi remains unmoved.
According to some observers, African migrants are reportedly locked up in camps under inhuman conditions. This fact, according to some, is well known to the Italian Government. “Between 2004 and 2007, three camps were built and financed by Italy and thus indirectly by the European Union,” says Claire Rodier. Libya’s acceptance of these migrants without protest is only because since the lifting of an international embargo againt Libya, the country wishes to increase its trade with Europe and particularly with Italy. According to Jomaa al-Asta, president of the Libyan Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Italy has one of the highest representations in terms of companies, about 52, in Libya. “We want them to be our partners in Africa, and we, their partners in Europe,” al-Asta indicated.
In August 2008, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed an agreement to pay Libya $5bn as part of a deal to resolve colonial-era disputes. The settlement signed in the city of Benghazi opened the door to a partnership between the two states. The money being released over 25 years, ended 40 years of misunderstanding, now Italy is Libya’s biggest trading partner.
Gaddafi’s visit to Italy is his first visit since he took over power in Libya in 1969. But Italian students hurled paints, jeered, and let off smoke bombs, protesting Gaddafi’s human rights record and a deal with Italy to return African migrants. “As non-Africans, these students have showed their support for these Africans, against an African Union chairman who continues to be used against his own people by Berlusconi, who has made some very unacceptable statements about African migrants” said an Italian student. In response to all the protests, the African Union chairman declared: “Let’s leave to these human rights organizations the responsibility of finding jobs, medical care and all that is needed for missions of people who could pour into your country”. Human rights group Amnesty International insist that Gaddafi continues to jail, torture and execute political prisoners.