MS Risk Blog

Italy Gives Go-ahead to Libya Naval Mission

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Italy’s Parliament on Wednesday 2 August authorized a limited naval mission to help Libya’s coastguard curb migrant flow, which have become a source of growing political friction in the south European nation ahead of national elections expected to take place early next year.

The lower house voted by 328 to 113 in favour of the mission. An Italian official has disclosed that Rome planned to send two boats to Libyan waters, with Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti sating that the vessels would only provide technical support and would not infringe on the North African country’s sovereignty. Speaking on 1 August in parliament ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Pinotti disclosed, “(we will) provide logistical, technical and operation support for Libyan naval vessels, helping them and supporting them in shared and coordinated actions,” adding that “there will be no harm done or slight given to Libyan sovereignty, because, if anything, our aims is to strengthen Libyan sovereignty.” She stressed that Italy had no intention of imposing a blockade on Libya’s coast.

The final decision comes after Italy announced the operation late last month, stating that it had been requested by Libya’s UN-backed government. Italy hopes to deploy six ships into Libyan territorial waters, however the plans had to be scaled back following protests from Tripoli.

After a surge in migrant arrivals on boats from Libya at the beginning of this year, the Interior Ministry disclosed on 2 August that the numbers of newcomers has slowed in recent weeks, noting that so far this year, 95,215 people had reached Italy, down 2.7 percent on the same period in 2016. Some 2,230 migrants, most of them Africans fleeing poverty and violence back home, have died so far this year trying to make the dangerous sea crossing. The total number of migrants who have arrived in Italy over the past four years is some 600,000 – effectively putting the country’s network of reception centres under huge strain and causing increasing political tensions.

Italy is due to hold national elections by May 2018, with voting widely expected to take place in early 2018. The migrant issue is expected to top the political agenda. Rightist parties have accused the centre-left government of doing nothing gin order to halt the influx. Speaking to reporters in parliament, Giancarlo Giorgetti, deputy head of the opposition Northern League party, stated “the (migrant boats) will not be pushed back to the Libyan shore so we don’t understand what we are going to b doing there. The Italian government however is hoping that the Libyan coastguard can help prevent flimsy migrant boats from putting to sea and has been at the forefront of efforts to make the small force more effective, including by training its members and upgrading its fleet. Rome has also placed pressure on non-governmental organizations, which have been playing an increasingly important role in picking up migrants off the Libyan coast and brining them to Italy. The government has introduce a code of conduct for the NGOs and has demanded that armed police travel on their boas to help root out eventual people smugglers. However only three out of eight humanitarian groups operating in the southern Mediterranean Sea agreed to the Italian terms earlier this month. While Italy did not specifically indicate the consequences for those that did not sign up, on 2 August the Italian coastguard halted at sea a boat operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet, which had said ‘No’ to the code of conduct. The vessel was searched and then escorted to port, while the crew ID’s were checked.