Libya has been given a major financial boost from the European Union to help combat illegal immigration. It follows a unilateral agreement between the north African country and Italy to carry out joint maritime patrols in the Mediterranean. At a meeting in Tripoli, the EU’s external relations commissioner announced a package worth 20 million euros to help strengthen Libya’s border controls. Tripoli has long been seen as a unofficial gateway to southern Europe, but one which the EU wishes to close.In recent years tens of thousands of migrants have made the perilous sea journey across the Mediterranean in a bid to escape poverty in their home countries. In 2008, the number arriving in Italy, by boat rose by 75 percent to 36,000. Brussels has been trying to renew ties with Libya after the north African country gave up its banned weapons program in 2003. The deal is thought to be a first step towards forming a free trade agreement and cooperation on areas such as foreign policy and security.