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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 19,131     71
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Books on Libya

Update No: 079 - (28/06/10)

Has Libyan Leadership Abandoned the United Africa Delusion?
At the start of June, the Libyan government ordered the closure of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office in Libya. While, such an action would have raised several questions about human rights in Europe, had it occurred in another African or Middle Eastern country, the EU reacted almost indifferently. The timing of the UNHCR closure in Tripoli coincided with the release from a Libyan prison of Max Goldi – the Swiss businessman arrested on charges of migration law violations in the wake of the Swiss-Libyan dispute that began in July 2008. One was earlier acquitted and allowed to leave in February. The other returned June 13 after the countries ended the spat. The release has led to a rebuilding of Libyan-Swiss diplomatic relations and resolved any related issues with the EU countries, which are now free to pursue investments in the Libyan oil and gas sector ‘guilt-free’.

In the mid 1990’s, Qadhafi abandoned his pan-Arab ‘project’ in favor of a pan-African one. He opened borders to African migrants and refugees and played an ever more influential role in the African Union (AU). The Libyan leader started to parade as a great African leader after a summit of the Organization of African Unity summit in Sirte in 1999, which led to the formation of the African Union. Qadhafi served as president of the AU. When his unusual request to serve another term was denied last February, his interest in African unity started to wane. In March, he suggested (infuriating the Nigerian government ) that Nigeria break up in two separate states after violent inter-ethnic riots broke out in the city of Jos. As late as 2006, The Libyan leader was urging Europe to accept migration from Africa, saying it was inevitable. In 1999, Qadhafi launched ‘COMESSA”, the Community of Sahel Sahara States, which linked Libya to Sudan and other Sahel countries such as Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Central African Republic. The main result of COMESSA was a sharp increase in the number of migrants from these regions. The recent closure of UNHCR heralds a definite shift away from Africa.

Libya is no longer risking being relegated to the ‘rogue’ pool; indeed, the UNHCR closure, in practical terms, is a gift to the European Union, which reaffirms Libya’s potential role as a key ally in challenging illegal immigration, as well as an ever more important source for oil and gas resources. By forcing UNHCR to close its offices, Libya has made it even riskier for Sub-Saharan migrants to make the trek to the Libyan coast; whereas, they might have had a chance to declare refugee status before, illegal migrants will now be left solely to the Libyan justice system. The EU has officially stated that it hopes that UNHCR might soon resume operating in Libya – and there are suggestions that this may occur in a limited form through the local UNDP office. Nevertheless, the EU has signed an additional financial and technical cooperation agreement with Libya to help the North African country confront the immigration problem through better border controls.

The EU ambassador to Libya praised Libya’s efforts, noting that the number of illegal migrants now reaching the Italian or Maltese shores has been reduced to “close to zero”. Meanwhile, some humanitarian organizations in Tripoli suggest that there are at least 450,000 aspiring migrants, all without papers, waiting to gather enough money to pay for an illegal passage toward Sicily or Malta. More significantly, from the Libyan point of view, many illegal migrants who went to Libya in hopes of reaching Europe have given up hopes of ever reaching this goal, deciding to remain in Libya. The migrants are hoping to share in some of Libya’s economic growth, while the tougher EU and Libyan controls on migrant boats have sharply increased the price and risks of a trip. Libya has also offered some migrants the opportunity to legalize their residence. Those determined to reach Europe are also choosing to go to Egypt and then the Levant, attempting a far more complicated land crossing. There are at least 18 migrant detention centers in the Tripoli area; they are off-limits to all humanitarian agencies except UNHCR. The very fact that Libya is now helping Europe combat illegal immigration though joint sea patrols are in sharp contrast with the heretofore promoted Libyan vision of a pan-African or pan-Arab union finally free from Western influence.

The end of the Swiss-Libyan dispute, which was achieved through the mediation of Germany and Spain and the very serious action taken to discourage migration to Europe suggest that Libya’s next diplomatic target and main opening may well be Europe. Having given up pan-Arab ambitions, Qadhafi’s enthusiasm for the United States of Africa has all but disappeared; all that took was for him not to be voted for a second time as the African Union’s president. Switzerland’s foreign affairs minister, Calmy-Rey, was already in Tripoli to start reconciliation talks and, while there is nothing to suggest that the Libyan leadership will stop ‘picking fights’ with other countries or leaders, leaving foreign investors in a constant state of vigilance, there can be no denying that Libya’s relations with the EU have gotten stronger over the past few months.

Libya is running a hedge fund from London, where FM Capital Partners is running Libya’s sovereign fund with a wider aim to facilitate Libyans’ access to western finance. More importantly, the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has made Libya even more attractive to the oil majors, which consider offshore drilling an important aspect of the search for new oil sources. While BP is coming under fire in the United States and Europe, the company has signed a deal with Libya to conduct offshore oil drilling. The chairman of the National Oil Company (NOC), Shokry Ghanem, said Libya is welcoming BP’s offshore drilling and is ready to start; he said that BP’s errors in the Gulf of Mexico will “help it to learn from its mistakes” as it starts exploration of a 50,000 square km. area off the Libyan coast. In the past few years, Libya has fallen short of its oil production targets, partly because of the various political risks associated with the country, discouraging more investment- especially the episode involving the Canadian firm Verenex, which hinted at a resurging ‘nationalization’ trend. Now, Qadhafi is intent on achieving the goal of producing three million barrels a day.

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