The first ministerial conference on migration and development between the EU and the African continent to curb the flow of illegal immigrants from Africa to Europe is under way in Tripoli.
Delegates from the 53-member African Union and the 25-nation European Union have gathered in a large tent, facing the sea, in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi uses the tent as a traditional setting for international guests.
The representatives are here for a two-day conference aimed at reaching a European-African partnership on migration policy. They're trying to coordinate efforts and reduce the number of migrants who attempt to enter the EU illegally.
Hunger and unemployment force thousand of people, many from poverty-stricken sub-Saharan countries, to leave their homes every year. They risk their lives in makeshift boats crossing the Mediterranean in search of a better life.
Libya, which is a staging point for many of these migrants, agreed to host the conference. The EU justice and interior commissioner, Franco Frattini, says Libya's collaboration is needed.
"The important message to be sent to our Libyan friends is that we want Libya on board in a very well structured cooperation with the European Union," he said.
Frattini said he does not want to see Libya as the border guard for Europe. Cooperation, he said, must be based on equality between Europe and African partners. The European Union is prepared to help Libya patrol its 2,000 kilometers of southern border with Niger and Chad.
"I've been promising to them to unlock some equipment, which is important, like tropicalized cars to patrol the desert or binoculars or uniforms and so on, but I will be asking the member states of Europe to agree on the possibility of sending persons to co-patrol directly," said Frattini.
Libya, for its part, will have to ensure those illegal immigrants don't cross into its territory and allow international organizations and human rights groups to inspect reception centers which the EU is helping establish in Libya.