ROME: Italy’s foreign minister has denied funding Libyan coast guard operations in the Mediterranean following claims by charity groups of human rights abuses of migrants and refugees.
During a session of the Italian Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday, Luigi Di Maio said Rome “had not, and would not” provide funds for such activities.
The minister’s assurances came in the wake of a plea by several NGOs for Italy to restrain from financing Libyan authorities.
In the parliamentary hearing on Italian military missions abroad, including the country’s presence in Libya, Di Maio added: “Strengthening of the Libyan authorities’ capacity to conduct search and rescue operations in their own areas of responsibility, respecting international norms, is one of the lines pursued by the (Italian) government.”
Italy recently donated a number of its former patrol vessels for use by the Libyan coast guard and has helped with the training of personnel.
Addressing deputies, Di Maio said: “It fits into the framework of initiatives to encourage a management (of migrant flows) that is more respectful of international standards on irregular flows (by Libya), and to combat the trafficking of human beings.”
He pointed out that he and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had attended several meetings over recent months with Libyan authorities during which the issues were discussed.
More than 100 associations joined a protest outside the building where the parliamentary session was being held.
Erasmo Palazzotto, an MP from the Italian left-wing LeU party supporting Draghi’s Cabinet, told Arab News: “We denounce the responsibility of Italian authorities in the constant massacre of migrant people in the central Mediterranean and in the cycle of violence, exploitation, and violation of human rights systematically endured by migrants and refugees in Libya.”
The NGOs have demanded “absolute guarantees” on the respect of human rights.
“Any cooperation with Libyan authorities must be stopped unless concrete guarantees on the protection of human rights of migrants and refugees are granted; we say no to support and cooperation with the Libyan coast guard aimed at forced pushbacks in Libya,” Palazzotto said.
He called for “a plan providing for the immediate evacuation of people held in Libyan detention centers and the extension of regular entry channels for migrant people and refugees,” along with, “the restoration of an institutional system for search and rescue (operations) in the central Mediterranean and the recognition of the essential role undertaken by NGOs in the safeguarding of lives at sea.”
Democratic party MP, Laura Boldrini, highlighted an incident reported by non-profit rescue group Sea-Watch on June 30, in which the Libyan coast guard — using a vessel donated by the Italian government — was allegedly seen firing live ammunition at a migrant boat in an apparent attempt to stop it from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.
She said: “The Italian Parliament cannot be deaf and blind regarding the unscrupulous methods used by the Libyan coast guard. Shooting at a boat full of people is a criminal operation.”
The parliamentary session passed a resolution to increase Italy’s engagement in the EU naval force Mediterranean operation (IRINI) — that helps in the training of the Libyan coast guard and navy and the disruption of human smuggling and trafficking — so as to limit Italian direct cooperation with the Libyan coast guard.
The resolution, approved by the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said: “This will allow to consolidate the role of Italy in Libya, rationalize the structure of command, and strengthen the European role.”