Italy’s Salvini Closes Migrant Camp in Sicily and Urges Tunisia to Speed Up Repatriation – Al Marsad

Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Italy, in a letter on Monday to Hisham al-Fratti, Tunisian Minister of Interior, urged him to accelerate the repatriation of migrants. During his recent visit to Sicily, Salvini closed the Cara di Mineo camp, one of Europe’s biggest camps for migrants and asylum seekers. Italy hails its migrant containment policy as a success, yet efforts to keep refugees off Italian shores hides a more complicated reality.

[Libya, 10 July 2019] – According to media agencies, Salvini wrote to his Tunisian counterpart at the end of a meeting of the National Committee for Public Order and Security. In his letter he wrote, “Historically, our bilateral relations have been characterized by the highest degree of cooperation and the common interest of safeguarding the delicate balance of the Mediterranean region”.

However, the Italian vice premier informed his Tunisian counterpart that due to the “complex situation in Libya, there is greater concentration of flows along the routes departing from Tunisia.”

“On several occasions, I have been able to attest to the Tunisian commitment to prevent the departure of many irregular immigrants, to fight traffickers, and to adopt counter-terrorism initiatives. The current scenario, however, requires us to exert further efforts particularly on interventions aimed at preventing and discouraging the departure of irregular immigrants; we also need to implement investigative activities to be added to an operational enhancement in the most sensitive areas,” Salvini said in the letter.

“We must accelerate the existing model of cooperation, with European support as well, and strengthen maritime surveillance capabilities, through the development of an integrated system based on radar stations and operational structures. In terms of repatriating migrants, we have a real model of operations, and we can achieve higher levels of efficiency through remodulations based on greater flexibility using public passenger vessels,” stressed Salvini.

Italy, Libya and the Migrant Situation

During his visit to the detention centre in Sicily, Salvini was asked by a journalist regarding the situation in Libya. He replied that he “couldn’t control what was going on in Libya but that at least 40% of arrivals in Italy this year were coming from Tunisia, not Libya.” He had therefore called the Tunisian interior minister to find more solutions. He emphasized that since there were “no problems, no war, no plague, no nothing,” in Tunisia then people could be sent back there without any problems. He had called upon the Tunisian authorities to accept not only charter return flights but also boats sent back to Tunisia.

The Cara di Mineo migrant reception centre in Sicily.

The heavy-handed attempts by the current Italian government to solve the migration problem and the flow that comes via western Libya and Tunisia is more complicated than Salvini cares to show. After a sharp fall in migrant arrivals, numbers have picked up since June, with human trafficking mafias increasingly towing packed boats deep into international waters to escape the Italian-funded Libyan coastguard. The collusion of the Italian government with the Tripoli-based GNA and tacit cooperation with Islamist militias has created a disastrous situation in the detention camps where migrants have been routinely sold in slavery, sexually abused, and trafficked. GNA officials deny allegations of abuse and say migrants are detained for their own protection in militia-run detention centres.

Influx of refugees and migrants to Europe in 2019.

The recently published 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report for Libya issued by the US State Department warned in no uncertain terms the deteriorating situation:  “During the reporting period, the GNA continued to coordinate with the Italian government to disrupt human trafficking and migrant smuggling operations, substantially reducing the flow of irregular migrants crossing the Mediterranean. However, some European and international Non-Governmental Organizations criticized this coordinated effort of turning migrant boats back to Libya and stopping other migrants from attempting the crossing to Italy, citing severe security and human rights conditions and an increased risk of trafficking for migrants forced to remain in Libya.”

“During the reporting year, there were continued reports that criminal networks, militia groups, government officials, and private employers exploited migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in sex and labor trafficking.” [2019 Trafficking in Persons Report for Libya].

The Western and Central routes which go via Tunisia and the coastal areas near Tripoli are by far the continuing problem routes originating from West and East Africa, Yemen, the Levant, and also Pakistan.

Furthermore, in a report published last week by the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), following the aftermath of the Tajourah Migrants Detention Centre attack, it asserted that the United Nations has repeatedly said Libya was not a safe place for rescued migrants to be sent back to and has called for refugees and migrants to be released and given safe shelter. Although OCHA declined to directly criticize Italy for shutting its doors to migrants, it did however state that European states must help to resolve the conflict in Libya in order to stop people taking perilous sea journeys.

Carola Rackete was arrested last month by the Italian authorities

The 31-year-old German Carola Rackete, who was arrested last month by Italian customs police while her boat docked at Lampedusa, and whose rescue vessel had 40 migrants on board after rescuing them off the Libyan coast, made a similar observation of how the migrant flow is being “contained”:

“Every day there are boats which are leaving from the Libyan shore, refugees which are fleeing from the civil war which is going on in Libya. They are kidnapped, they are tortured, they are sold as slaves.”

As Al Marsad has reported recently, Libyan militiamen aligned to the Government of National Accord (GNA) such as the notorious and UN-sanctioned Al-Bija benefit from the plight of the migrants and the human trafficking industry, and continue to use extortion whilst working under the GNA as official coast guards and enjoying EU funds for training programmes.

© Al Marsad English. 2019


Further Resources

US State Department Report Accuses GNA of Colluding with Criminal and Human Trafficking Networks

UK Demands Immediate Closure of Migrant Detention Centres Near Frontlines

The GNA Human Trafficker: The Al-Bija Scandal