Italy’s navy to patrol with Libyan ships to curb human trafficking

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Series Details 30.07.17
Publication Date 30/07/2017
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On the 28 June 2017 that the Italian Government had asked its ambassador in Brussels, Maurizio Massari, to formally present a request to the European Commission for help and express its inability to cope alone with the on-going migration crisis.

Just in the previous few days more than 12,000 people were said to had arrived by sea. The Italian government was said to be considering blocking boats carrying migrants from landing at its ports - in particular boats not flying the Italian flag, including those operated by various charities and NGOs, who were carrying out search and rescue operations in the sea between North Africa, in particular Libya, and Italy.

The European Commission said on the 29 June 2017 that it was was ready to give Italy fresh financial support. 'We support and we understand Italy's concern and we support their call for a change in the situation'.

'But what we're also saying is that any change in policy should first be discussed with other member states, and also properly communicated to the NGOs who are running these boats so that they have time to prepare'.

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said on the 1 July 2017: 'Italy is playing its part in receiving those rescued and providing asylum to those in need of protection. These efforts must be continued and strengthened. But this cannot be an Italian problem alone. It is, first and foremost, a matter of international concern, requiring a joined-up, comprehensive regional approach.

Europe in particular needs to be fully involved through an urgent distribution system, increased external engagement and additional legal pathways of admission. And the response to the immediate crisis must be matched by broader efforts by all concerned, to address the root causes behind migratory pressures, create better protection for people in transit, and address smuggling and trafficking'.

On the 2 July 2017 the European Union Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos met with the Interior Ministers of Italy, France and Germany in Paris to discuss a 'coordinated approach' to help Italy.

The European Commission set out on 4 July 2017 a series of measures to be taken by the EU institutions and agencies, Italy and the other Member States, in response to the increasing pressure from migrants along the Central Mediterranean Route.

The European Commission welcomed the approval of the action plan by EU Member States at an Informal meeting of justice and home affairs ministers (JHA) in Tallinn on the 6 July 2017.

Italy continued to investigate a series of initiatives, including a suggestion that it was evaluating a proposal to issue 200,000 temporary migrant visas to allow migrants arriving on Italian shores to move freely throughout the rest of Europe.

It also proposed a code of conduct for nongovernmental groups conducting search and rescue in the central Mediterranean. Charity organisations performing search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean were expected to sign the code of conduct on the 31 July 2017.

In the event some of the affected NGOs signed and others did not. Save the Children, Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, and MOAS, the Maltese-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, signed. However, the German NGO Jugend Rettet, and Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) refused to sign.To help deal with the issue of large numbers of sea crossings by migrants and potential asylum seekers from Libya to Italy (Central Mediterranean Route) during 2017 the Italian government was investigating a series of possibilities (see Background below).

Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on the 27 July 2017 that a government plan to deploy vessels in Libyan territorial waters to help fight human trafficking would be presented to the Italian parliament the following week.

However, this was a sensitive topic, for the Libyan authorities to allow its territorial waters to be entered for this purpose by the navy of another country. The Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) said on the 28 July 2017 that it 'denies having asked Italy to send naval vessels into Libya's territorial waters... or fighter planes into Libyan airspace'.

News sources reported in August 2017 that the numbers of migrants attempting the dangerous sea journey from Libya to Italy had substantially been reduced in July 2017 from the equivalent figures in 2016. Some sources suggested this was a vindication of the Italian government strategy.

In the face of threats from the militia-controlled Libyan coast guard, private aid organisations like Doctors Without Borders and Sea Eye temporarily suspended their missions aimed at rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean in August 2017. Commentators argued about the extent to which NGO rescue operations influenced refugee numbers.

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EurActiv, 14.08.17: Italy applauds Tripoli’s decision to keep NGO ships far away from Lybian coasts
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The, 15.07.17: Reduction in new sea arrivals leaves experts guessing why
EurActiv, 15.08.17: Italy minister sees light at the end of the tunnel on migrant flows
OHCHR: News, 15.0.17: Italy-EU search and rescue code could increase Mediterranean deaths, UN expert warns
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Politico, 29-31.07.17: [Opinion]: The EU can’t solve Italy’s migration crisis
The, 28.07.17: Libya denies accord for Italy ships to deploy
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The Guardian, 12.08.17: Medical rescue ship suspends work after alleged threats by Libyan coastguard
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EurActiv, 01.08.17: Aid groups split over Italy’s new rules for migrant rescues
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The, 01.08.17: MSF refuses to sign on to new migrant rescue rules
EUObserver, 14.08.17: Italy backs Libya as NGOs chased out of Mediterranean
Politico, 14.08.17: Italian foreign minister: We’ve been abandoned by Europe on refugee crisis

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