LIBYA has repatriated about 40,000 illegal immigrants recently and arrested a number of people-traffickers, Interior Minister Nasr al-Mabrouk said yesterday, hours before Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi arrived in the country for talks on illegal immigration.
"Libya is a victim of illegal immigration," Mr Mabrouk said. "This is a tax we have to pay for our geographical location, our long land and nautical borders."
The Libyan and Italian governments have both been criticised for their joint efforts to repatriate illegal immigrants.
This week, Italy flew about 360 deportees to Libya. Earlier, Italy deported 1,000 illegal immigrants to Libya, which deported most of them to neighbouring Egypt.
Mr Mabrouk claimed that all the 40,000 people repatriated recently had left Libya of their own free will.
In the case of the 1,000 immigrants who were flown out of Italy on military planes, he said that most were Egyptian citizens.
"Italy asked for our help to return these immigrants to their countries," Mr Mabrouk said.
After pressing the Italian authorities for five days, the The United Nations high commission for refugees said yesterday that it had been granted clearance to visit illegal immigrants who risk speedy deportation to north Africa.
The UN refugee agency has said that it is very worried about hundreds of migrants who have flooded Italy's southern shores in recent days and wants to ensure that they are given a chance to apply for asylum.
They can be quickly deported back to Libya under a new and contested Italian policy.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Medecins Sans Frontieres, have attacked the policy, saying that it could deny some people the chance to apply for asylum.
The centre-left opposition has also been critical, with legislator Livia Turco branding the transfers "shameful expulsions."