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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 09:05 GMT
Marching orders for migrants in Libya?
By Rana Jawad
BBC News, Tripoli

An African immigrant in Tripoli, Libya
Libyans are threatened with fines for hiring illegal immigrants
Libya's decision to expel its estimated one million illegal immigrants is seen by many of them as an empty threat.

This is not the first time this North African country has threatened such a move.

Benjamin is a Ghanaian domestic worker and watchman at a foreign company in the capital, Tripoli.

He has been living in Libya for 15 years with no legal documents and says he has heard it all before.

"Initially for the first day you'll be panicking. But after some time, you'll see that when things are normalised, you will continue with your work."

The official line is that the immigrants are causing problems with what was described as "an impact on the economic, sanitary, social and security situation".

Whilst some Libyans blame them for a rise in crime, Malian Omar Kamara thinks that expelling all illegal immigrants is not an economically viable option.

They are rich, they have money but they don't have the labour
Omar Kamara
Malian immigrant

"I don't think it's possible because Libyan people don't like to work," he says.

Mr Kamara, who is a caretaker for a Western diplomat, has been living and working in Libya illegally for five years - and each year he hears such threats.

"We are here and I think I can do a big thing for the Libyan government. They are rich, they have money but they don't have the labour."

A senior North African diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, told the BBC he agreed that such drastic measures would not be in Libya's interest.

He believes the statement is geared towards easing European Union pressure on the country to curb the flow of migrants to Europe.

People generally have mixed views and attitudes towards illegal immigrants.

Many feel their status should be organised in a better fashion to avoid illegal activities. Others are more concerned with Libya's future.

As one Libyan woman put it: "Western societies were historically built on the backs of immigrants and continue to benefit from their services and cheaper labor. Our country needs the manpower to realise its development needs and activities."

Desert frontiers

Libya recently signed a landmark deal with Italy to jointly patrol their territorial waters.

But Libyan officials have said that they need border control assistance from Europe, particularly on its desert frontier.

Immigrants under a bridge in Tripoli
Immigrants tout for trade to passing motorists

Tripoli says it has asked for helicopters, night-vision equipment and radars from the EU but has yet to receive them.

Over the years, the Libyan government has sporadically repatriated illegal immigrants.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), governmental repatriation numbers have gradually risen in recent years.

More than 64,000 immigrants were reportedly sent back to their homeland in 2006.

Early last year, the prime minister announced that all workers had two months to either secure a contract and legalise their status, or leave the country, but in the event nothing happened.

In September, diplomats say Egypt did tighten its border controls with Libya - ensuring pre-requisites like a work contract were all in order.

There are an estimated 500,000-700,000, mostly illegal, Egyptians in Libya.


Libyans themselves are threatened with prosecution and fines for accommodating or concealing a clandestine immigrant.

But some privately complain that when they have tried to legalise the status of their workers, they ultimately were not able to.

Some immigrants say, however, that they do know of people who have successfully legalised their status through foreign bosses.

Usually when expulsion threats are made, many illegal immigrants abandon the spots where they congregate to offer services, such as plumbing and carpentry, to cars passing by looking for handymen and cheap labour.

When the rhetoric and threats cool down, they reappear.

The day after the most recent threat, illegal immigrants gathered as usual under a bridge in Tripoli - touting for trade.


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