Report. The Conte government allowed a deadline to rescind a memorandum with Libya’s President al-Sarraj, which subsidizes boats that capture migrants and return them to hellish concentration camps.

Italy quietly extended its refugee deal with the Libyan ‘Coast Guard’

Three more years. The Italian government has chosen to silently renew the Memorandum with Libya, as the deadline for rescinding the agreement expired on Sunday. 

After the government allowed it to pass, Rome communicated to Tripoli that it intends to seek some changes to the text of the agreement—changes which will take some time to materialize: the first request is to convene an Italian-Libyan Joint Commission in order to open negotiations. 

The spokesman for President al-Sarraj (who maintains a rather unsteady grip on power) said that he was available for talks, as “any agreement can be amended,” while Admiral Ayoub Qassem, representative of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, clarified that “the Memorandum is just as good for Italy as it is for Libya.” 

It is not known exactly how much money is circulating between Italy and the factions close to al-Sarraj in connection with the agreement; what is certain, however, is that over the past three years, around €150 million have been allocated for the so-called Coast Guard, whose mission is to catch and return the migrants fleeing from the horrors of the detention centers—and, if necessary, shoot them, let them drown or threaten the NGOs that are trying to rescue them. 

Providing military supplies to Libya is a violation of the UN arms embargo due to the war in Libya. And, most crucially, we know now something we didn’t know back in February 2017, when then-Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni concluded the agreement with al-Sarraj through Minister Minniti: namely, that the Libyan detention centers are concentration camps, completely inaccessible to the international humanitarian organizations that should be able to inspect them. 

The changes that Italy intends to propose include opening up the centers to UNHCR and IOM inspectors and transferring many of the detainees to Europe through new humanitarian corridors. However, the first point had already been formally decided for some time, and what needs to be done is to finally figure out how it will be implemented in a satisfactory manner. The second point, meanwhile, is not in the power of either Rome or Tripoli to decisively affect. 

Similarly, it’s not possible that Italy alone should be responsible for the “great aid plan for Africa” that people have been talking about for some time, and which is meant to curb migration at its source. In practice, it is highly likely that the result of all the talk will simply be more Italian money to fund expulsions at sea at the brutal hands of the Libyan militias. 

On Sunday, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies also announced that it will begin a series of hearings to elaborate a number of draft changes to the Memorandum that it will submit to the government—which serves as clear confirmation that the current text is intended to remain in force for quite some time. The Memorandum, however, has never been brought up for a debate, not to mention a vote, in Parliament. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Italian amendment proposals have not yet been formally sent to the Libyan side, as we wait for the “Commission” to finally meet.

The ranking Democratic Party (PD) member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Lia Quartapelle, explained that “tearing up the Memorandum would mean us having a clear conscience again, while leaving the situation as it is and standing by and watching the atrocities committed in Libya from afar. In order to make an extraordinary evacuation plan and close the camps, we need the Memorandum.” 

However, two PD MEPs are of the opposite opinion. Dr. Pietro Bartolo from Lampedusa says that “our government should understand that the Libyan ‘institutional representatives’ with which they would have to sit down at the negotiating table to modify the Memorandum are criminals. These agreements must be torn up, it’s inconceivable that they are talking once again about renewals and changes.” 

Massimiliano Smeriglio, another PD MEP, added that “instead of pushing the desperate poor in the hands of the Coast Guard, we should promote a new international rescue mission at sea. We were not able to make the difference, and the renewal of the agreements with Libya is a setback that hurts our work and makes us less credible.”

Indeed, the PD was unable to put up a united front in the confrontation with Di Maio, who from his Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now trying to embody the role of anti-migrant “hardliner” previously taken up by Salvini, with an eye to electoral gains. 

It’s no coincidence that the continuity regarding the Memorandum is first and foremost a matter of continuity with the approach of the Gentiloni government and Minister Minniti’s management of relations with Libya. In an attempt to make up for this sore point, party leader Nicola Zingaretti has raised again the issue of the security decrees, which were accepted back when the government program was being written. The program says only that the security decrees should be reviewed in light of the critical remarks from the President’s office. 

Now, however, they have returned to being a target for elimination—at least at the level of proclaimed intentions, that is. According to the PD secretary, “in the coming days we will ask for the withdrawal or modification of the Salvini decrees, because they have resulted in nothing but an increase in the number of the undocumented and have created an unbearable climate of hatred.”

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