Italy donates boats to help Libya fight people smuggling

TMP – 15/05/2017

Italy has donated the first two of 10 boats to the Libyan coast guard, which will be used by the coast guard to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean and bring them back to Libya. This is part of a strategy that Italy hopes will reduce the large number of migrants reaching Italian shores.

The motorboats were handed over on 21 April at a ceremony in Gaeta in Italy, where a group of 20 Libyan coast guard members have recently completed training, including in migrant rescue operations.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti, also present at the ceremony in Gaeta, said Italy would deliver the rest of the boats by June. He described Libya’s coast guard forces as “the most important structure in northern Africa” in controlling human trafficking.

Human rights advocates, however, fear that if the migrants are returned to Libya, they will again risk torture, sexual abuse and exploitation.

Libyan Ambassador Ahmed E.I. Safar, who attended the ceremony, acknowledged that human rights abuses occur in Libyan detention centres.

“Yes, there were abuses,” he said. “There will be abuses probably in the future as well. We will deal with them. We will see what we can do in terms of monitoring, supporting, raising awareness,” with the help of other countries and international organizations.

Human traffickers have taken advantage of the power vacuum in Libya to send hundreds of thousands of migrants in flimsy boats towards Italy’s shores.

The EU and Italy would like to set up camps in Libya instead to host migrants, where those eligible for asylum in Europe can be processed.

During a meeting of ministers across the Mediterranean in March to discuss aid to Libya, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said: “There will be camps that are created together with the humanitarian organisations in full respect of peoples’ rights,” adding that migrants will be able to seek asylum in Europe from the Libyan camps.

At least 1,073 migrants, including 150 children, have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2017.