Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Parliament | Photo: ANSA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Parliament | Photo: ANSA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO

Italy will not halt its 2017 Memorandum of Understanding with Libya, but the government pledged that it will work to improve the deal, "with special attention to migrant centers and conditions."

Italy will not cancel a deal with Libya that was signed in 2017 to reduce migration, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Wednesday. The Memorandum of Understanding with Libya is due for automatic renewal on November 2 unless contrary action is taken. 

However, the Italian government will work to improve ''the contents, with special attention to migrant centers and conditions," Di Maio said. 

Nicola Zingaretti, secretary of the Democratic Party (PD) has previously asked for ''radical change'' in the document, which was signed on February 2, 2017 by the prime minister at that time, Paolo Gentiloni, and the president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Fayez al-Serraj. 

Associations working together under the name of 'Tavolo Asilo' and the Liberi e Uguali political party had called for the complete annulment of the memorandum. 

Memorandum 'helped reduce migrant arrivals' 

The memorandum is valid for three years and will be automatically renewed for another period of the same length unless one of the parties notifies that it wants to end it three months prior to when it would expire. The 'window' to prevent it from being renewed thus ends on November 2. 

"Any halting of the memorandum," Di Maio warned, ''would be a political injury in an already delicate phase of military conflict.'' 

The foreign minister underscored that it ''can be amended and improved, but it is undeniable that it has contributed, through the strengthening of the operating capacity of the Libya authorities, to significantly reduce (migrant, Ed.) arrivals and, as a result, deaths.'' Italy, he noted, ''is stil today the only effective partner of the Libyan authorities in the fight against human trafficking. A reduction in Italian assistance could mean the suspension of Libyan Coast Guard activities, leading to more departures, tragedies at sea, and the worsening of conditions in migrant centers.''

'Foster greater UN involvement' 

Italy intends to request modifications of the memorandum through the calling of a Italy-Libya Joint Commission meeting. Di Maio said that the aim was to ''foster greater involvement by the UN, the international community, and NGOs to improve assistance to migrants rescued at sea and conditions in the centers, in light of the fact that Libya has not signed the Geneva Conventions on refugee status.'' 

The 8 articles call for Italian funding for what are called Libyan ''reception centers'', though these facilities are in reality detention centers since Libya punishes illegal migration with imprisonment. Italy also provides healthcare assistance, medicine, and training for Libyan staff working in the centers. 

Changes have meanwhile been announced by the government on another hotly-debated subject, that of former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's 'security decree'. These will be brought in by the end of the year, current Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said. She noted that "there has been an intention by the head of state, and thus we will certainly make changes'' in order to "bring them into compliance with the observations made by the president's office."

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