Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has chosen Libya for his first trip abroad as prime minister with the aim of relaunching relations between the two countries, including on immigration. Draghi expressed "satisfaction for what Libya is doing in rescue operations", prompting criticism from a number of lawmakers and NGOs.
"The time has come to rebuild the ancient friendship between Italy and Libya," Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on April 6 after meeting Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dabaiba for bilateral talks. It was the first trip abroad for Draghi as prime minister.
The main dossiers on the agenda of the two premiers concerned infrastructure, energy, cultural exchanges and immigration.
Dabaiba highlighted that the objective of talks was the reactivation of the 2008 "Treaty of friendship" signed by former premier Silvio Berlusconi and then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.
'Satisfaction' on migrants sparks controversy
On the issue of immigration, Dabaiba's position is that the issue of "migrants does not only concern Libya, which is a country of transit, nor just Italy. It is a European and international problem."
The objective for Italy and Libya would be to reduce migrant flows already at the southern border, in the desert of Fezzan, where the French presence is still strong, sources close to the Libyan dossier said.
"On the level of immigration, we express satisfaction for what Libya is doing in rescue operations and at the same time we assist Libya," Draghi said.
"But the problem is not only a geopolitical one, it is also humanitarian and, in this sense, Italy is one of the few countries keeping humanitarian corridors active," the Italian premier noted, prompting protests from members of the opposition and others.
Critics objected to how migrants are treated in Libya reacted to the statements. They included Democratic Party (PD) lawmaker Matteo Orfini who said: "Draghi is satisfied? It is unacceptable."
Criticism was also expressed by the leader of the Italian Left (SI) Nicola Fratoianni, members of the grassroots Sardines movement and the former member of the Five-Star Movement (M5S) Raffaele Trano.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) tweeted: "A rescue operation at sea only ends with the arrival in a safe port. There is little to be satisfied about."
Other dossiers discussed at the meeting
In Libya, a return to stability is beginning to be felt although episodes of violence are far from being over.
"An essential requirement to proceed with the collaboration is for the ceasefire to continue. The security of sites is essential to be able to proceed with the collaboration," warned Draghi, who travelled to Tripoli with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
Business was also one of the issues discussed. "We are expecting an increase in the collaboration between Italy and Libya in the sector of electricity and energy and this was already provided for by the Treaty of friendship," explained Dabaiba.
Draghi and his counterpart released a joint statement to seal the relaunch of relations.
Rome's objective is to reinstate structural cooperation in a scenario so far marked by the hegemony exercised by Turkey (in Tripolitania) and Russia (in Cyrenaica), with the backing of US President Joe Biden in the background.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said: "stabilizing Libya means securing our coasts, offering new opportunities of development to our companies and guaranteeing peace to a population that is seeking the road to democracy."