Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio welcomes UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome | Photo: Angelo Carconi/ANSA
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio welcomes UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome | Photo: Angelo Carconi/ANSA

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi says Italy has promised to resume evacuations of the most vulnerable migrants and refugees from Libya. Evacuations were reduced due to the pandemic.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said on Friday (April 16) that he had been reassured by the Italian government that the evacuation of the most vulnerable migrants and refugees would resume from Libya.

Speaking during a visit to Rome, the UN official said the Italian government has provided "positive assurance that all types of evacuations of the most vulnerable migrants and refugees will resume, both directed to Italy and through other African countries."

"This type of evacuation was considerably reduced during the acute phase of the pandemic, for objective reasons," Grandi told a virtual press conference during his visit to Rome on Friday. "It is important for them to resume and I have been assured of this. In this context, I have also been assured that the famous humanitarian corridors will resume, not just from Libya but also from other countries."

Italy and UNHCR are watching the situation in Libya and remain "concerned or vigilant about future developments," Grandi went on to say. He noted that "recent political agreements between various groups in conflict in Libya induce slightly more positive expectations."

"It is important also to use this phase to improve in Libya the management of migration flows – a matter of primary importance for Italy as well as for UNHCR," Grandi stressed.

Concern for operations at sea

Speaking about the situation in the northern African country, Grandi recalled "there was an investment in the past in Libyan coast guards to increase their operations" to intercept migrants at sea.

"All institutions of a country can legitimately conduct operations in their territorial waters, but what I am concerned about is that the same investment has not been made on other Libyan institutions in charge of dealing with people once they land in Libya," Grandi said. He expressed "concern" about intercepting and returning migrants to Libya, because disembarked people then become part of a vicious circle of detention, abuse and new crossing attempts.

For this reason, "institutions in charge of providing this type of support to refugees must also be strengthened by the international community," continued Grandi, also calling for action to "progressively close" detention centers.

The situation in Italy

Grandi also thanked the government and Italian institutions for ensuring access to asylum seekers despite the global health crisis that affected Italy in a very significant way and despite growing migratory pressure at sea and land borders.

Speaking about migration flows in the Mediterranean, the official said "we should have no illusions, with the good season it is clear that crossings at sea will once again increase and rescue operations remain crucial and vital.

"Ideally, these rescue operations should be the result of a collective effort of European countries, but unfortunately this doesn't happen," he explained, stressing that he "completely disagrees with any attempt to penalize NGOs for what they are doing, which is a precious and vital job."

The High Commissioner then highlighted that "migratory pressure in Italy today is not only through the Mediterranean ... Unfortunately, we also see pressure at land borders, and this concerns us, in particular from the eastern border. The so-called Balkan route is resuming, also from a numerical standpoint," he said.

"One of the main factors is that all countries before Italy along this route are not managing well the refugees and migrants taking said route. We actually know that human rights abuses were not only committed, including at the external borders of the European Union, but also pushbacks of a brutality we had not seen in a long time."

Finally, Grandi stressed that the only response to migration flows is a European one. "Once again I am backing requests of the Italian government and other countries of first arrival because they cannot be left alone to deal with this phenomenon," he concluded.

 

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