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Luciana Lamorgese. Wikipedia
Rome

Italian Interior Minister reveals Libyan stranglehold on illegal immigration

The Italian government's memorandum with Libya has shaken up the political debate, mainly because it has revealed the extent of Libyan leverage on Italy.

Published: November 7, 2019, 8:06 am

    That is why the briefing on Wednesday from the Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Libya was much awaited. Some internal tensions within the majority on immigration were also revealed and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been performing political somersaults in order to try to keep the coalition government together.

    The interior minister’s speech was divided into two parts: in the first she illustrated the status and purpose of the memorandum, and in the second, the focus of the speech was represented by the desire to implement “changes”.

    Lamorgese praised the memorandum: “From 2016 to today there was a decrease of 97,2 percent in landings, the Libyan route is the one that has suffered the greatest decrease”, declared the former prefect of Milan. But in addition to the numbers, according to Lamorgese, the memorandum was also important from a political point of view: “We have avoided the isolation of Libyan institutions. Thanks to Italy, in 2017 the United Nations agencies have been able to visit the Libya, a fact not taken for granted.”

    The agreement was signed by the former executive and by the Libyan premier, Fayez Al Sarraj. On November 2, it was tacitly renewed, but with requests for changes relating to the tensions within the governing coalition. And Lamorgese confirmed this: “On November 1, our embassy in Tripoli proposed the convocation of a meeting of the Italian-Libyan commission, pursuant to Article 3 of the same memorandum, to discuss the changes.” A proposal that, according to the minister, the Libyan government accepted on November 3.

    The government’s position is therefore not very clear and it is in fact the one that has been leaked in the media over past few days: yes to the renewal of the memorandum, but with some cosmetic changes to be made through a commission to be set up with Libya. The decision is the result of an internal compromise to the majority: in the face of an M5S reluctant to touch the memorandum.

    There are two main concerns for the detractors of the memorandum: on the one hand the relations with the Libyan Coast Guard, which has not been free of ambiguity, as demonstrated also by the Al-Bija case.

    One of Libya’s leading human traffickers, Abd al-Rahman al-Milad (or Al-Bija), and commander of the Libyan Coast Guards in Zawiya, has retained a stranglehold on the lucrative human trafficking business along the Zawiya coast thanks to EU largesse. In 2017, in Sicily he met with Italian intelligence officials to discuss controls on migrant flows from Libya.

    Italian newspaper Avvenire, had published an extensive investigation into the meeting. A UN security report revealed in June 2017 that Bija was a bloodthirsty human trafficker responsible for shootings at sea and the suspected of drowning dozens of people. At the meeting, the trafficker even demanded funds from the Italian government to “manage” Libyan reception centres.

    Lamorgese also spoke of the state of Libyan reception centers: “The goal is to improve the situation within the centers, in view of their gradual closure”. This last statement represents perhaps the most important position taken: the Interior Ministry, in fact, aims at the creation of centers managed directly by the IOM and UNHCR, the two UN agencies that deal with migrants.

    Moreover, the hypothesis of humanitarian corridors has been advanced in which Italy will play an important political role of intermediation with the United Nations and the EU.

    The third point Lamorgese touched on is the initiatives in southern Libya, aimed at improving the levels of surveillance of the southern borders of the North African country. Finally, the fourth point provided support to Libyan municipalities and assistance with the distribution of basic necessities and medical equipment.

    Despite the Lamorgese’s “changes” it is quite clear that nothing will change in relations with Libya, nor will there be substantial changes to the memorandum. The Italian government is being held hostage by the Libyans. The risk of finding themselves with new migratory emergencies and losing more political ground in Libya is too strong to deny.

    The Chamber discussed the “changes to be implemented” rather to calm the political debate in Italy, and if anything, it will at least never be discussed with the Libyans, and essentially nothing will change in the agreement with Tripoli.

    The four points listed by Lamorgese, expressed leftist political lines already noted in the past and already included in the memorandum.

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    • LuciusAnnaeusSeneca

      “The Italian government is being held hostage by the Libyans. The risk of
      finding themselves with new migratory emergencies and losing more
      political ground in Libya is too strong to deny”

      That is part of the unfortunate reality. The rest is even worse. The so-called Libyan “Government of National Accord” controls less than 5% of the country’s land area, and has little hold over the Tripoli coast, where local tribal and crime bosses run the “migrant express”. The ability of the UN-backed GNA to counter human trafficking is limited, and depends on the Libyan navy and coast guard, which have received funding and other support from Italy. But until Libya has a government strong enough to protect its borders, the illegal migrants will keep coming across the Sahara to Libya.

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