Italy renews the pact to return immigrants to Libya

Europe was horrified to see live how the more than 360 corpses were being removed one by one from the ship that caught fire off the coast of Lampedusa in October 2013. Senior representatives of the European Union traveled to offer their condolences to the white coffins , Italy decreed national mourning and the Pope cried out “shame.” After the fright of a drama that is usually consummated by chapters, little by little, the Mare Nostrum military operation was launched, to save the desperate adrift. But shortly after, criticism of a supposed call effect began to sound. Arrivals were increasing, its neighbors turned their backs on it and Italy, alone in the face of the emergency, dismantled humanitarian rescue operations.

In April 2015 the whole of Europe suddenly woke up again. A dilapidated ship capsized with more than 850 people on board. Again, nameless dead and hollow words. The only question that echoed in the political offices was whether to save them or let them die. Two years later Italy signed an agreement with Libya. The coast guards of the North African country, repeatedly accused of violating human rights, would do the dirty work of rescuing the immigrants into the sea and return them to what the Pope calls “modern concentration camps”. The atrocities that are committed in these centers —torture, humiliation, mass rape of women and children— are perfectly documented.


migrants returned to Libya by the country’s maritime forces in 160 operations

“There is data that confirms that there are abuses there. Supporting the Libyan coast guard through funds, means and training is essentially equivalent to supporting detention centers, where people see their rights trampled on a daily basis, subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment,” says Valentina Brinis, head of consultancy of the Spanish NGO Open Arms. “In addition, EU military units participate in the operations, providing key information to be able to locate the ships in danger. The approaches occur violently. They treat immigrants at gunpoint and confiscate all their property,” he says.

This and 39 other human rights organizations called a demonstration in Rome and Milan on October 26 to break the agreements with Libya. The protests met with little success. Last Wednesday Italy automatically renewed the controversial pact to stop the migratory flow on the central Mediterranean route for another three years. It is a fairly generic text that has basically served to train and provide resources to the Libyan coast guard, a unit that is made up of private militias that often allies with people traffickers. It has never been specified how many resources have been invested in this project, but according to a calculation by the NGO Sea Watch, it would be more than 32.5 million euros. There is also no clear data on the number of people who have been returned to hell. According to a journalistic investigation published in IrpiMedia, an Italian digital outlet, from January 1 to September 2022, there have been more than 160 operations in which more than 16,000 immigrants have been transported back to Libya.

“The memorandum is an insult to the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, as well as a denial of responsibility, present in the different constitutions of the European countries that signed the Geneva Treaty of 1951, to defend and protect the right of asylum”, assures without half measures the president of the Migration Commission of the Italian Episcopal Conference and archbishop of Ferrara-Comacchio, Gian Carlo Perego.

Demonstration against the Italy-Libya memorandum of understanding in Rome on October 26. Photo: AFP / Tiziana Fabi.

“In light of the reports on the murders that are committed in the refugee camps in Libya – in which there are also Christians and people of other religions – the signing of this agreement appears as an act of complicity in these deaths,” he adds. . He is not without reason. In June 2019, a group of international lawyers filed a complaint — without identifying those responsible — for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate the EU for its responsibility in these crimes against humanity.

This agreement is also part of the battle of attrition that the Italian government – ​​with the veiled support of the European Union – is waging against the NGOs that still resist at sea, with the unwavering support of the Catholic Church. “According to international law, you cannot not rescue people at sea. Even more so if it is about people whose lives are in danger, minors, women with children, “says Perego, also president of the Migrants Foundation. Meanwhile, at press time, almost 400 people were still trapped on various boats belonging to the NGOs SOS Humanity, Mission Lifeline, Doctors without borders Y SOS Mediterranean waiting for an authorization to be able to set foot on Italian soil. But the new government of Giorgia Meloni has returned to the policy of closed ports and has only allowed a partial disembarkation of women and children. For Archbishop Perego, it is “naive” to think that you can fight human trafficking “by stopping the NGO boats, which rescue 10% of all those who try to cross the Mediterranean.”

According to the latest data from the International Organization for Migration, the deadliest migration route remains the central Mediterranean, where 2,836 migrants have drowned since January 2021 trying to reach Italy or Malta. The equation does not fail. The more legal routes to emigrate are blocked, the more people will throw themselves into the sea crammed aboard battered fishing boats to reach Europe.

Italy renews the pact to return immigrants to Libya – Alfa y Omega