UN backs Italy bid to close mi­grant route from Libya

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ROME: The UN’s new en­voy to Libya yes­ter­day en­dorsed Italy’s drive to stem the flow of mi­grants leav­ing the north African state for Europe, de­spite mis­giv­ings among hu­man rights groups. Rights cam­paign­ers fear Italy’s fo­cus on strength­en­ing the Libyan coast­guard to en­sure boat­loads of mi­grants are in­ter­cepted be­fore reach­ing in­ter­na­tional wa­ters could place thou­sands of peo­ple with a right to asy­lum at se­ri­ous risk.

But Ghas­sam Salame, a for­mer Le­banese culture min­is­ter ap­pointed in June to head UN op­er­a­tions in Libya, de­scribed the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Tripoli and Rome as a “very con­struc­tive” way of deal­ing with an acute prob­lem. “It would be ab­so­lutely un­re­al­is­tic to ig­nore the se­ri­ous­ness of the chal­lenge of ir­reg­u­lar mi­gra­tion,” Salame said af­ter meeting Ital­ian For­eign Min­is­ter An­gelo Al­fano in Rome.

“There are hun­dreds of mil­lions of them across the world. This is very se­ri­ous prob­lem.” “I also be­lieve each coun­try has an ab­so­lute right to con­trol its bor­ders and that the best way of do­ing that is through co­op­er­a­tion with neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. “We are on a good track of strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion to meet this chal­lenge which is a chal­lenge for all of us.” More than 600,000 refugees and other mi­grants have reached Italy from Libya since 2014. Italy’s cen­tre-left gov­ern­ment is un­der in­tense pres­sure from do­mes­tic op­po­nents and EU part­ners to close down the route. Its navy is pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance to the Libyan coast­guard, which has also been pro­vided with new pa­trol boats and train­ing by its for­mer colo­nial master.

Al­fano said the co­op­er­a­tion was be­gin­ning to bear fruit, in a ref­er­ence to a more than 50-per­cent fall in the num­ber of mi­grants res­cued at sea dur­ing July, when com­pared to the same month in 2016. Italy has also been work­ing to stem mi­grant ar­rivals in Libya through bet­ter con­trols on the southern bor­der, co­op­er­a­tion with coun­tries like Niger, Chad and Mali that mi­grants tran­sit on their way to the Mediter­ranean and a vol­un­tary repa­tri­a­tion pro­gramme.

Refugee agen­cies say Libya is too un­sta­ble for any po­ten­tial refugee to be safely re­turned there. There is par­tic­u­lar con­cern over the fate of mi­grants who end up in the coun­try’s de­ten­tion camps, where con­di­tions are usu­ally squalid and a lack of reg­u­la­tion means peo­ple risk tor­ture, sex­ual abuse and forced la­bor.

Al­fano in­sisted the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment would not com­pro­mise on its com­mit­ment to hu­man rights. “It is not a derby be­tween se­cu­rity and hu­man­ity,” he said. But he ac­knowl­edged Libya’s mi­grant hold­ing fa­cil­i­ties leave much to be de­sired. “Now that we have an op­por­tu­nity to re­duce the fluxes and or­gan­ise refugee camps in Libya, we have to in­vest heav­ily in an in­ter­na­tional, multilateral hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tion to en­sure th­ese camps have an ac­cept­able stan­dard in terms of hu­man rights and ev­ery other re­spect,” Al­fano said. —AFP

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