24.03.2011 / 16:24 CET
Member states and European Commission will meet tomorrow to discuss fate of thousands of Africans who have fled Libya.A number of Africans who have fled the violence in Libya but cannot return to their home countries may soon be allowed to travel to the EU, Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, has said.
Speaking to reporters after returning from Egypt today (24 March), Malmström said that several member states were willing to consider relocating Eritreans, Sudanese and Ethiopians who are unable to return home for fear of persecution. She said that “a few thousand” Africans, most of them from Eritrea, were stranded in Tunisia and up to 270 were in Egypt.
Malmström announced that the European Commission would hold an exploratory meeting tomorrow with member states and the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR.
EU interior ministers are to discuss the EU's response to possible large-scale migration from north Africa at a meeting on 11 April. EU leaders at a summit in Brussels today and tomorrow will also briefly discuss the matter.
Malmström left it open whether the Africans would be given refugee status or some form of temporary protection, and declined to say which member states had signalled their willingness to admit the Africans. She said that it was up to the member states to decide how many refugees they would admit and what status they would offer them.
Roberto Maroni, Italy's interior minister, had earlier this month said that Italy was in principle willing to receive around 2,000 Eritrean Catholics stuck in Libya, and small groups have since been evacuated to Italy. There have been reports of attacks by insurgents against sub-Saharan Africans who are suspected of being mercenaries for the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
Under an Italian agreement with Libya that took effect early in 2009, Italy summarily returned Eritreans and other interdicted migrants to Libya without assessing whether they were in need of international protection. It is not clear whether the group now stuck in Tunisia includes such cases.
A group of Somalis and Eritreans has filed a case against Italy before the European Court of Human Rights. A first hearing is scheduled for June.