The government says its mission is backed by Libya's UN-recognized unity government based in Tripoli
The Italian parliament approved a naval mission meant to support the Libyan coast guard in combating human trafficking and managing the migrant flow to Italy. Officials believe boats being sent back to Libyan ports will have a powerful deterrent effect on would-be migrants considering paying traffickers for passage to Europe; the approach has been criticized by international rights groups who say people returned away from troubled Libya face detention in squalid camps and abuse at the hands of traffickers.
Only three of the nine NGO's operating search-and-rescue activities in waters off of Libya have accepted the new rules, which Italian authorities say are necessary to ensure the boats are not effectively encouraging migrants to embark on the perilous crossing.
This action reflects Italy’s rising frustration with what it sees as having to deal with Europe’s migrant crisis on its own. The European nation has threatened to close its ports to aid groups rescuing migrants off Libya's coast as it struggles to cope with the highest rate of rescues this year.
Human Rights Watch, the rights advocacy group, has given warning that Italy's naval mission to prevent refugees and migrants from setting sail from Libya for Europe could see Italy commit human rights abuses. But Italy says its mission is backed by Libya's UN-recognized unity government based in Tripoli.
Italy's defense minister, Roberta Pinotti, insisted before the vote that the mission would not be a naval blockade, although legislators from the anti-migrant Northern League, an opposition party, demanded exactly that. “The mission will provide technical and logistical support for the Libyan coastguard and will not encroach on the country's sovereignty”, said Pinotti.
"After years of saving lives at sea, Italy is preparing to help Libyan forces who are known for detaining people in conditions that expose them to a real risk of torture, sexual violence, and forced labor", Judith Sunderland, HRW's Europe and Central Asia associate director, stated.
Under human rights law, no one rescued or intercepted by an EU-flagged ship or under the control of an EU member state can be sent back to a place or handed over to authorities where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment. "This includes pushbacks to Libya or handovers to Libyan forces and applies even if Italy rescues or interdicts people in Libyan territorial waters", Sunderland clarified.
Italy could be implicated in denying people's right to leave any country and interfering with the right to seek asylum under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Libya has not ratified the international refugee convention and does not have a functioning asylum system.
The waves of migrants have become a conservative talking point against the center-left government, which has found itself increasingly on the defensive as elections approach. The crisis has stoked tensions between Italy and its European Union partners, who have been unwilling to share the burden of migrants flowing into the nation, even as many of the migrants seek destinations farther north among Europe’s richer countries.
Italy and its struggling economy, much like Spain and Greece, cannot sustain hundreds of thousands of people without help. In fact, there is no political nor popular will to keep the sub-Saharan Africans in the country, with polls showing that over 60 percent of Italians believing that immigration not only makes their country a worse place to live in, but also more dangerous.
Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella
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