Italy OKs naval sup­port to help Libya fight traf­fick­ing

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

MI­LAN — Italy on Fri­day ap­proved send­ing Ital­ian naval ships to help the Libyan coast guard com­bat mi­grant traf­fick­ing fol­low­ing a re­quest by the North African na­tion.

The mea­sure is part of ef­forts to stanch the flow of hun­dreds of thou­sands of mi­grants who are smug­gled out of Libya across the Mediter­ranean Sea to Europe each year by traf­fick­ers us­ing un­sea­wor­thy boats.

Pre­mier Paolo Gen­tiloni, who is un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to man­age their ar­rivals in Italy af­ter be­ing res­cued at sea, said the ini­tia­tive to help Libya pa- trol its shores “can give a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to re­in­forc­ing Libyan sovereignty. It is not an op­er­a­tion that we take against Libya sovereignty.”

De­tails about the op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing the rules of en­gage­ment, were not dis­closed fol­low­ing the Cabi­net’s ap­proval, but Gen­tiloni said Italy would “not be send­ing a huge fleet or air squadrons.”

Hu­man Rights Watch warned, how­ever, that the Ital­ian ac­tion could amount to a naval block­ade that “could ex­pose mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers to even greater abuse.”

“Given the hor­ri­ble treat­ment of mi­grants in Libya, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how any Euro­pean govern­ment could dis­em­bark any­one there, or hand any­one over to Libyan au­thor­i­ties, while also pro­tect­ing their rights,” Ju­dith Sun­der­land, the as­so­ciate Europe di­rec­tor at HRW, said in a state­ment.

The op­er­a­tion will be con­sid­ered by Italy’s par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sions next week, and Gen­tiloni said he hoped it would re­ceive broad par­lia­men­tary ap­proval.

Gen­tiloni has said the re­quest from the Libyan govern­ment could be a turn­ing point in man­ag­ing the tor­rent of mi­grants pour­ing into Italy across the Mediter­ranean Sea.

Traf­fick­ers have ex­ploited wide­spread law­less­ness in the vi­o­lence-wracked, frac­tured North African na­tion to make it a smug­gling haven. The Ital­ian govern­ment is un­der in­creas­ing do­mes­tic pres­sure to bet­ter man­age flows, es­pe­cially since the Euro­pean Union’s plan to redis­tribute mi­grants ar­riv­ing in Italy has run into re­sis­tance from other EU na­tions, like neigh­bor­ing Aus­tria, Poland and Hun­gary.

Italy al­ready is fur­nish­ing Libya’s coast guard with rub­ber boats and train­ing aimed at im­prov­ing Libya’s own pa­trols, while work­ing with au­thor­i­ties on strength­en­ing the ca­pac­ity of bor­der guards in the south, where most il­le­gal mi­grants en­ter the law­less na­tion.

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