Analysis. The meaning of a deputy’s question is clear: what exactly do we have to do with those who are being accused of using violence against migrants on a daily basis?

Italian Democrats are increasingly uneasy about financing Libyan migrant vessels

Graziano Delrio, the former Italian Democratic Party group leader, took the floor during the virtual assembly of the PD deputies on Thursday as they were discussing the draft bill on international missions.

“I don’t understand how this mission makes sense, and I don’t understand why a party like ours should support it,” he said.

The measure, which funds Italian military missions abroad, is set for a vote on July 15, and the doubts that Delrio communicated to Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini and undersecretary Marina Sereni, also present at the meeting, concerned “item 48/2021,” containing the funds that the government is asking for to train the so-called Libyan Coast Guard: €10.5 million, an increase of €500,000 compared to last year.

The meaning of the deputy’s question is clear: what exactly do we have to do with those who are being accused of using violence against migrants on a daily basis?

Delrio didn’t go so far as to invoke the possibility of voting against Item 48 if the Chamber were to decide to separate it from the rest of the bill, but the unease he expressed was all too clear.

Those who have been explicit about opposing it are the deputies who have always opposed any kind of relationship with the Tripoli Navy, such as Matteo Orfini, Laura Boldrini and Giuditta Pini.

“Obviously, no one is saying we have to leave Libya or disavow the stabilization process of the country,” Orfini explained, “but that has nothing to do with the choice to contain the flow of migrants by outsourcing the borders and supporting the Libyan Coast Guard. It was a strategy begun with the Gentiloni government, but which has failed to the point that even those who conceived it, such as Marco Minniti, are now saying it’s unfeasible.”

In the last five years, the funding indirectly allocated by Italy to the Libyans to intercept and bring back the migrant boats to the North African country has tripled, going from €3.6 million in 2017 to €10.5 million today. The total so far is €32.6 million, in addition to both land vehicles and naval vessels—such as the patrol boat that tried to ram and open fire on a migrant boat last week.

Last year, when it came to a vote, eight PD deputies voted against extending the funding, joining their colleagues from LeU, five from the Mixed group and three from M5S. However, all the other PD deputies voted in favor, counting on the assurance that the Italy-Libya Memorandum would include a guarantee of respecting the human rights of migrants. This has not happened, as the modifications to the Memorandum are still stuck in limbo. In the meantime, the Libyans continue returning hundreds of men, women and children to detention centers.

“However, compared to last year, many things have changed, and there are new developments that must be taken into account,” claims Enrico Borghi, the deputy delegated by Letta to follow this issue. “Today, there is a government in Libya which was thought impossible a year ago, and we are no longer in the context of the Memorandum, because Draghi has raised the issue of the European pact on immigration in Brussels. Furthermore, the Irini mission will train the Libyan Coast Guard, and this is not a secondary issue, because if we don’t do it, Turkey will.”

Nonetheless, the issue is so controversial among the PD that Enrico Letta—who as Prime Minister launched the Mare Nostrum mission—asked his people to look into how one might stop the collaboration between the Italian government and the Libyan Coast Guard. Unfortunately, the prospects looked much slimmer than he had hoped.

Meanwhile, the PD deputies will meet once again in the coming days. ”We have asked to see whether the votes are there to separate Item 48 from the rest of the bill,” Orfini concludes. “If they aren’t, we’ll have to figure out how to organize dissent on the Chamber floor.”

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