Italy fo­cuses on Libya mis­sion to man­age mi­grant cri­sis

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES - BY COLLEEN BARRY

Italy is putting its hopes for manag­ing the mi­grant cri­sis on a new, Libya-re­quested mis­sion to sup­port the North African na­tion’s coast guard de­spite suf­fer­ing a re­buke by hu­man­i­tar­ian groups.

Min­is­ters were brief­ing par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees Tues­day on a Cab­i­net-ap­proved mis­sion that would de­ploy Italy’s navy to as­sist the Libyan coast guard in pa­trolling its ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters. A vote could come as early as Wed­nes­day.

De­fence Min­is­ter Roberta Pinotti told a joint meet­ing of par­lia­ment’s de­fence and for­eign af­fairs com­mis­sions that Ital­ian ships would re­spond to spe­cific Libyan re­quests and that the de­ploy­ment would not im­pinge on Libya’s sovereignty.

Pinotti also de­nied the claim from some hu­man rights groups that the mis­sion would con­sti­tute a naval block­ade.

Pre­mier Paolo Gen­tiloni says Italy’s as­sis­tance off the coast of Libya could be­come a “turn­ing point” in his coun­try’s ef­fort to man­age the flow of mi­grants across the Mediter­ranean Sea.

The UN mi­gra­tion agency says 94,802 mi­grants have reached Italy this year as of Sun­day, a num­ber on par with last year and which rep­re­sents 85 per cent of Europe’s new ar­rivals. The agency es­ti­mates that 2,221 peo­ple have drowned this year while at­tempt­ing to cross the main Mediter­ranean route from Libya to Italy.

Italy’s bid to get 10 hu­man­i­tar­ian groups to agree to new rules of con­duct for res­cu­ing peo­ple from the Mediter­ranean failed when at least four, in­clud­ing Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, re­fused to sign on Mon­day.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional was the most re­cent group to crit­i­cize the plan, say­ing that dis­patch­ing war­ships to aid the Libyan coast guard was “a shame­ful at­tempt to cir­cum­vent the res­cue of mi­grants and refugees.”

Ob­jec­tions to the Ital­ian de­mands in­clude a pro­vi­sion that would per­mit armed po­lice on the res­cue ships. Sev­eral non-gov­ern­men­tal groups stren­u­ously op­pose hav­ing weapons on the ships at any time, say­ing guns and hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tions are in­com­pat­i­ble.

The groups also op­pose a pro­posed rule that would pre­vent them from trans­fer­ring res­cued mi­grants to other ves­sels, which would force their boats back to port in­stead of al­low­ing them to keep do­ing res­cues.

Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders gen­eral direc­tor Gabriele Emi­nente said her char­ity would con­tinue to work in the Mediter­ranean “but at the mo­ment, I don’t un­der­stand what the fail­ure to sign means.”

The Ital­ian gov­ern­ment has said hu­man­i­tar­ian groups who do not agree to the new rules could be re­fused ac­cess to Ital­ian ports.

But it seems un­likely that Italy could de­prive them of ac­cess to its ports. Un­der in­ter­na­tional law, ves­sels that have res­cued peo­ple must not be sub­ject to un­due de­lay, fi­nan­cial bur­den or other dif­fi­cul­ties, ac­cord­ing to the UN’s refugee agency.

In Brus­sels, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion spokes­woman Natasha Ber­taud said that if the groups “ad­here to some prin­ci­ples and op­er­a­tional stan­dards, in line with in­ter­na­tional law, then they will have the as­sur­ance that they can ac­cess Ital­ian ports.”

At least three groups ac­cepted the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment’s rules: Save the Chil­dren, Malta’s MOAS and the Span­ish group Proac­tiva. The EU is en­cour­ag­ing more to sign up.

Italy drafted the code of con­duct af­ter pros­e­cu­tors in Si­cily al­leged that some non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions had been col­lud­ing with the smug­glers who send boat­loads of mi­grants out daily from Libya, for ex­am­ple by sig­nalling their pres­ence in one area of the sea.

Groups in­clud­ing Save the Chil­dren and Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, and said the claims un­der­mined their hu­man­i­tar­ian work by cre­at­ing a cli­mate of mis­trust.

AP PHOTO

Women stand at the deck of the res­cue ves­sel Golfo Azurro af­ter be­ing res­cued by aid work­ers from a rub­ber boat sail­ing out of con­trol about 15 miles north of Al Khums, Libya, Tues­day.

AP PHOTO

Sara Traore, a two-year old girl from Ivory Coast is res­cued from a rub­ber boat sail­ing out of con­trol about 15-miles north of Al Khums. Libya, on Tues­day.

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