Migrants rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast arrive at a naval base in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: EPA
Migrants rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast arrive at a naval base in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: EPA

Various NGOs and human rights associations are calling on the Italian parliament to revoke the agreement between Italy and Libya on the management of migrant flows, four years after its signing.

Four years after the signing of the Italy-Libya accord, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), Emergency, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Oxfam and Sea-Watch on Tuesday appealed to the Italian parliament to immediately revoke the agreement, and to allow the resumption of search-and-rescue activities in the Central Mediterranean.

"Libya cannot be considered a safe place, but rather a country in which violence and brutality represent everyday life for thousands of migrants and refugees," said the organizations in a statement.

Four years after signing the accord, said the organizations, the news coming from Libya is "even more depressing" than back then. The organizations said that the accord represented a "failure of Italian and European policy." They said that instead of just blocking migrants in Libya, the money should be spent on constructing medium and long-term solutions to provide safe ways for migrants to reach Europe and migrate legally.

'Italy has spent €785 million to block migrants'

"Since the signing of the accord, Italy has spent the record amount of €785 million to block migratory flows in Libya and to finance Italian and European naval missions," the organizations said.

"A good part of that money -- more than €210 million -- was spent directly in the country, but unfortunately it hasn't done anything but contribute to further destabilising it and pushing human traffickers to convert the business of smuggling and human trafficking into a detention industry," read the statement.

The organizations' press release dubbed the memorandum a "cynical" political move. They said that in the four years since the Memorandum was signed, it has resulted in "more than 50,000 migrants being pushed back to Libya, 12,000 of whom were pushed back in 2020 alone.

Requests to parliament

At the moment, Italy is between governments, after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned. Former leader of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi has been called in for talks with Italy's President about the possibility of leading another caretaker government.

The statement from the six organizations said: "Taking into account the current political crisis, the organizations are therefore calling on parliament to establish an investigative committee on the real impact of money spent in Libya and on shipwrecks in the Mediterranean and to present a document that commits the government to:

  • interrupting the Italy-Libya accord, and making sure that any future bilateral agreements are not made before a stable political government in Libya is estalished. This would mean, say the organizations, that the policy of detention in Libya would then be outlawed and that human rights of migrants on Libyan soil would be respected and "adequate assistance provided."
  • putting a stop to all military missions in Libya and calling strongly for the closure of all detention centers;
  • promoting on a European level the approval of a plan of evacuation from Libya of the people who are most vulnerable and most at risk of being subjected to violence;
  • providing a mandate for the establishment of a European naval mission with the clear task of search and rescue of people at sea;
  • promoting, on a European level, the approval of an automatic mechanism for the immediate disembarkation and subsequent redistribution of people arriving on the southern European coasts;
  • promoting the revocation of the Libyan search-and-rescue area, since it is only aimed at the illegal interception and pushback of people to Libya;
  • and recognizing the role of humanitarian organizations in the protection of human lives at sea, by putting an end to their criminalization and freeing their ships still being detained.

'A failure of policy'

The organizations say that since 2017 Italy has spent more than €540 million on naval missions in the Mediterranean which were not focused on search and rescue.

In the same period, (2017-present) the UN Migration Agency, IOM, has counted "nearly 6,500 migrants" who lost their lives in the Mediterranean whilst trying to reach Europe.

Successive Italian governments, claim the organizations, during this time "put obstacles in the way of humanitarian vessels who were focused on search and rescue." Even now, they point out, the principle of criminalization of the humanitarian rescue vessels, introduced during the second "Security Decree" when the League's Matteo Salvini was Interior Minister, has not been fully removed from the statute books.

In 2020, say the organizations, the Italian government obstructed six humanitarian vessels by holding them in port on various "specious charges." These obstructions, they claim, contributed to the 780 deaths registered during 2020 and nearly 12,000 migrants being pushed back to Libya.

They say that the authorities continued to delay search and rescue operations throughout 2020.


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