United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/ANDRE PAIN
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/ANDRE PAIN

UNHCR chief Grandi told the Italian foreign minister that Libya has to be ruled out as a country to send migrants back to due to ongoing conflict and the humanitarian conditions there. He stressed that letting migrants return to the North African country must be "avoided at all costs." However, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wants to keep Libya on board as part of the solution.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio during a meeting in New York last week that Libya remains an unsafe country to return migrants to after they have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

Di Maio has recently pledged to work on initiatives to increase the number of repatriations of undocumented migrants. He told reporters that he would increase the rate of redistribution across the European Union in future, aiming to send up to three quarters of migrants arriving in Italy to other EU states.

He has, however, not ruled out closer cooperation with Libya, and is currently weighing up ways to cooperate more closely with authorities in the war-torn country.

Di Maio: Libya has to take back migrants

Libya's coast guard is supported by the Italian government, which provides training programs as well as additional vessels to help patrol Libyan waters. The Italian government would reportedly like to invest further into preventing migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and would like to enlist help from the Libyan coast guard to this end.

Di Maio says that Libya should ultimately take back all boats that leave from the Libyan coast, adding, however, that the migrant detention centers in the country must first be transformed into hosting facilities managed by humanitarian organizations.

Grandi: Libyan detention centers still unsafe

Filippo Grandi noted during the meeting with Di Maio that the UNHCR as well as other UN bodies had "extremely limited" means available to improve migrants' lives in Libya "due to the conflict" in the country, stressing that detention centers remain unsafe for refugees and migrants.

The UN agency has urged to "end the detention system of migrants and refugees and, as an alternative, to assist refugees in urban centers or through evacuations," Grandi said.

Redistribution: solution or pipe dream?

European Union member states meanwhile are struggling to find a solution to Italy's present role in Europe's migrant situation, as migrants continue to depart from Libya, taking direction at the Italian islands almost daily.

Italy, Malta, France, and Germany agreed alongside representatives of the Finnish EU presidency and the EU Commission to work on a lasting redistribution deal last week in time for an EU summit next month.

Maltese Interior Minister Michael Farrugia, however, spoke about failed pledges from the past: Farrugia said that about half of the migrants who had been allowed to disembark on the island over the past few months with the promise that they would be redistributed remained in Malta.

"Only France and Germany have honored their pledges", he said.

Rise in migrant landings

While politicians are scrambling to find solutions, migrants continue to arrive on Italian shores at an increasing rate. By the end of September 2019, there were roughly 2,000 landings in Italy compared to less than 1,000 in the whole of September 2018.

Former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, has accused the new government of reopening ports to all migrants, saying that this was the reason why "landings have doubled."


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