Italy renews deal which returns intercepted irregular migrants to Libya

Italy’s recently elected government has agreed to an automatic renewal of a 2017 deal under which intercepted migrants picked up by the Libyan coastguard are returned to the North African country. 

The deal, which commits Italy to financing and training the Libyan coastguard, has been in effect since February 2017 and was supposed to end on 2 September this year. Nearly 36,000 people have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libya since the agreement was signed.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on 30 October that his country will not cancel the deal with Libya, and will work to improve ”the contents, with special attention to migrant centers and conditions.” 

Improving the deal would include evacuation programmes to resettle asylum seekers and measures to ensure the presence of humanitarian organisations in Libyan detention centres, according to reliable sources. But both parties have to agree on such amendments.

Di Maio stated that “the document can be amended but it is undeniable that it has reduced the number of arrivals and deaths at sea.”

“Reducing Italian assistance could result in the activities of the Libyan coastguard grinding to a halt, leading to an increase in the number of people leaving and conditions of migrants in the centres worsening,” he added.

More than 20 Italian and international organisations have recently requested the Italian government and the European Union, in an open letter, to revoke the deal, evacuate detained migrants from Libya, and ensure effective search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said that continuing the deal, along with the proposed changes, would serve only to “perpetuate policies of rejection and detention” in Libya.

“The only possible solution is to completely overcome the arbitrary detention system and end the support offered to the Libyan authorities that feed suffering, violations of international law and the odious work of smugglers,” said Marco Bertotto, Head of Advocacy at MSF. 

The Libyan government estimates that there are over 700,000 irregular migrants currently in the country, and only 7,000 are housed in migrant centres. Libyan detention centres are notorious for human rights abuses and inhumane conditions.

TMP 15/11/2019

Photo credit: photofilippo66 /

Photo caption The Libyan coastguard has intercepted and returned about 36,000 Europe-bound irregular migrants since 2017.