Mario Giro, who was Deputy Foreign Minister in Italy’s Gentiloni government, was always critical of the immigration policies implemented under the previous Interior Minister, his colleague Marco Minniti.
“Do you know what the problem is?” he said. “In the name of the migratory emergency, in the last two years the Italian foreign policy in Libya has been made by the Ministers of the Interior instead of those of Foreign Affairs. And we see the results. [Current Interior Minister Matteo] Salvini is doing nothing more than take to the extreme what has already been decided previously.”
These days Giro is engaged in a series of meetings with Catholic associations to present “Centro Solidale,” the new political formation created in support of Nicola Zingaretti, which now wants to expand.
“Even the criticism of the NGOs did not begin today, but a year ago,” recalled Giro when we spoke by phone recently. “Salvini took up this line against the last four NGO ships still present in the Mediterranean, while back then there were 14.”
Italian ports are closed, and Libyan ports are considered safe. Doesn’t this sound a bit strange?
It’s a fiction. It is an old story that we have tried in the past, when Maroni was at the Viminale and Italy was condemned for closing the ports and sending migrants back to Libya. It is said that many of the countries from which migrants come are not at war. This statement makes us smile: I invite everyone to go to the Foreign Ministry’s “Viaggiare sicuri” web page and read the recommendations that are given to our fellow citizens on those countries, so everyone can get an idea of how safe they are.
As Deputy Foreign Minister, you described the Libyan detention centers as hell.
And everyone blamed me. I tried to remedy the most difficult situations by inviting the Italian NGOs to go to the detention centers—today there are seven in Libya. Only the former minister of infrastructure Delrio supported my choice. Since then, the only thing that has changed is that the European Union has done what it was asked to do at the summit in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire: it has repatriated some 26,000 people who were in so-called legal centers. However, we do not know how many people are still locked up today. Among other things, I was also puzzled that the IOM [International Organization for Migration] said a month ago there are 700,000 migrants in Libya, and as of three days ago it is correct to talk about 200,000. The truth is that no one knows, and it would be better to avoid certain scaremongering.
There is no reliable government in Libya, yet Italy continues to regard the North African country as a credible partner and the European Union supports economic aid.
I am not saying that Libya should not be helped; on the contrary, I am saying that a political effort should be made to ask the Libyans to resume negotiations and conclude them. We have to understand that with Libya something can only be done effectively for migrants when there is a unitary state. But how can migrants be entrusted today to a non-state entity, which will never respond to anyone? My question is: why have we stopped insisting on the political side for more than a year and entrusted Libya to interior ministers instead of leaving it in the hands of foreign ministers to finally reach a political agreement and disarm the militias? Until this happens, the problem of migrants will only be a means for the Libyans to hold us hostage.
And what is your personal opinion on this aspect?
We tend to think that there is an urgency of migration, or rather a psychosis, as Pope Francis says, and one does not see beyond his own nose. It is an international inertia. The Libyan factions must be persuaded to come to an agreement. It seems to me that Mr. Moavero—Minister of Foreign Affairs—wants to move in this direction, which is the only useful one. If we are always trapped by the latest emergency, we will never get out of it. Eisenhower said that urgent things are rarely the most important. If we continue to entrust interior ministers with a job that is not their job, such as negotiating with tribes, then we will solve nothing. And then we need an integration law to take migrants off the streets.
However, this whole situation was started by Minister Minniti, who was a member of your own government.
And I immediately said that I did not agree. Let’s get away from the misunderstanding: Italian policy on the migration issue must be bipartisan. I have always supported it. But as long as it is used for internal purposes—right versus left or left versus right—we will not find a real solution.