Analysis. Spurned by Europe, Italy is determined to find an overseas solution to the high numbers of arrivals of migrants and refugees.

Italian minister back in Libya to seek migrant solution

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti is trying again: “We will form a pact to stop human traffickers.” On Thursday, he returned to Tripoli where he met with Prime Minister Fayez al Serraj and 13 mayors of Fezzan and Tripolitania, the two Libyan regions most affected by the passage of migrants.

Minniti promised to the representatives of local authorities aid for the reconstruction of administrative capacity destroyed by years of civil war in exchange for a collaboration that, in reality, rather than fighting criminal organizations, would eventually stop the flow of direct migrants to Europe. If achieved, this would lower the pressure on Italy, which has struggled for months to address high numbers of landings.

The first, the Libyans were willing to work with the minister, but they oppose the creation of refugee camps in the south of the country, convinced it would have a negative impact on the safety of the area, as explained by the mayor of the city of Murzuk in Fezzan. “We want Italy to help with the security of the southern borders through the technology it owns,” the mayor explained.

Given the instability of Libya, Rome has long since begun to shift its activities further south, trying to make deals with the countries of the Sahel and in particular with Chad and Niger, two of the main transit points for migrants. As long as these do not materialize, however, Italy has nothing left to do but to continue investing resources in the North African country.

Two days ago Serraj threatened to bomb smugglers’ ships, perhaps because he is aware of his weakness, and was pushed by the need to demonstrate to his Italian ally he can do something against immigration. This is an impossible idea, because the Libyan leader does not have an air force and would have to rely on the Mig fighters in the hands of Misrata militias. But mainly it’s impossible because such an outrageous action would constitute a massacre of migrants, among whom the traffickers are hiding. Thus, the international community preferred not to give weight to his words.

The Italian approach migrants moving through Libya is more pragmatic. Thursday in Tripoli, Minniti was accompanied by the president of ANCI and Mayor of Bari Antonio Decaro. “I found that the mayors are determined to give greater stability to the country and boost local economies,” says Decaro to whom his Libyan counterparts presented a list of very concrete demands: from aid in reorganizing the local police to the provision of water purifiers, to the reconstruction of civil registry offices and schools.

“Many of these mayors administer communities near Libya’s southern border, where the trafficking activities are stronger, and often they offer the only support to families,” said Decaro. “The goal is to be able to restart a legal economy.”

As for the security of the border with Niger, Italy aims to create a Libyan border guard, formed by Fezzan inhabitants and paid for with E.U. funds, as is already the case with the Libyan coast guard. But something could also move beyond the border. Speaking two days ago in Trieste on the sidelines of the summit on the Western Balkans, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to “bind Italy to our action throughout the Sahel,” where France has troops and where it contributed to the formation of a joint force among the five countries of the area. He added: “We will carry out joint actions to try to stabilize the area and stop the flow of migrants.”

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