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The New Arab Staff

NGOs call on Italy to suspend Libya migration agreement and re-start Mediterranean rescue efforts

A Sea Watch 3 crew member NGO after rescuing 47 migrants [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 February, 2021

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Italy provides financial assistance to the coastguard authorities in Libya, which has been in chaos since 2011.
A group of six NGOs and human rights associations have called on the Italian parliament to suspend an agreement between Italy and Libya on the management of migration flows and to allow the resumption of search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Under the terms of the controversial 2017 agreement between Italy and the Tripoli government, Italy provides financial assistance to the Libyan coastguard in return for limiting migration flows to Europe.

The humanitarian organisations 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 on the grounds that the accord represents a "failure of Italian and European policy".

Italy has spent over $940 million to block migratory flows from Libya, according to the organisations. Over $250 million were spent directly in Libya, which has been locked in internal conflict since 2011.

Rossella Miccio, president of the Italian medical organisation Emergency, told The New Arab that the public money should not be spent on funding militias with little or no accountability but instead on "guaranteeing legal ways to request [humanitarian] visas and investing in integration".

The NGOs claimed the funds contributed to further destabilising the country, pushing human traffickers to convert the business of smuggling and human trafficking into one that profits from detention centres, where refugees are held.

Read also: Libyan election vow must be honoured 'at all costs': UN

"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," the organizations said in the statement.

Miccio said Italy and the EU must find solutions that are "more in line with European values".

In the four years since the memorandum was signed, over 50,000 migrants have been pushed back to Libya - a key departure point for refugees in the African continent to Europe - 12,000 of whom were expelled in 2020 alone.

The UN Migration Agency, IOM, estimated that nearly 6,500 migrants have lost their lives since 2017 whilst trying to reach Europe.

The humanitarian organisations have called on the Italian parliament to establish an investigative committee to assess the impact of the funds given to Libya and to halt the Italy-Libya accord until a stable political government is formed. 

However, Italy is currently facing a political crisis following the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Conte is currently attempting to garner enough support to lead a new caretaker government.

Emergency, which operates search-and-rescue activities in collaboration with German Open Arms, has denounced the intense political pressures against NGOs operating in the Mediterranean.

In 2020 the Italian government prevented six humanitarian vessels from conducting search-and-rescue operations by holding them in port on various "specious charges." These obstructions, they claim, contributed to the rising death toll in the Mediterranean.

The funding of the Libyan search-and-rescue operations, aimed at intercepting boats leaving Libya, cannot substitute European naval missions, the organisations said.

They called for the establishment of a European naval mission with the clear task of saving people at sea.


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