Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the EU should send migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea back to Libya. The demand comes after 450 rescued migrants arrived in Pozzallo to be distributed to other EU countries.
Sharing the burden of arrivals "is a first significant step forward, but the solution is not sharing among European countries, but blocking migrant departures," Italian Interior Minister Salvini said Monday.
He also called for an end to the long-held consensus by EU members that Libya is too dangerous for migrants' well-being. Returning migrants one by one to where they came from could be the "only solution to get out of this tunnel," Salvini said.
European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud meanwhile rowed back against the proposal. "No European operation and no European vessel carries out disembarkation in Libya. This is because we do not consider it to be a safe country."
International organizations warn that migrants in Libya face arbitrary detention, torture and extortion, forced labor and unlawful killing in unofficial facilities run by human traffickers. Reports in recent years reveal that human rights abuses are commonplace among refugees in Libya.
The migrants who disembarked in Pozzallo had been picked up by a British vessel deployed by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, and a boat of Italy's customs police after running out of food and water. Many suffered from malnutrition and scabies, according to IOM spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo, having stayed ar an unofficial Libyan detention camp prior to setting off from Zuwara on July 11.
Nine migrants from the ship had been transferred to Lampedusa already over the weekend. Their medical condition was particularly critical. A 27-year-old woman from Eritrea only weighed 35 kilos after spending "seven terrible months" in Libya, ANSA reports. A nurse treating the migrants was quoted as saying that she was seeing "effects like those of concentration camps."
A total of 450 migrants will be distributed to Germany, Malta, France, Spain and Portugal, each country taking in 50 respectively. Though the EU welcomed the move, Brussels also urged EU states to reach more solid agreements.
The hard-line, anti-immigrant Italian government had kept the ships from docking two days until other countries stepped forward.