By Annalisa Camilli

On 2 November the Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and Libya on Migrants (Memorandum of Understanding, Mou) signed by the Italian government with the Tripoli government on 2 February 2017 will be automatically extended .

Despite numerous complaints of human rights violations, the “Unimaginable horrors” (documented by the UN in 2018) in Libyan detention centers financed by the Italian government (sales of human beings, torture, sexual violence, rape and abuse of any kind) “committed by public officials, by militia members who are part of of armed groups and traffickers “, in a context of absolute impunity, the government decided not to revoke the agreement, which will be automatically extended for another three years.

At the same time, however, some changes could be introduced to the renewal to which the government and in particular the foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, has been working for a few days and which should be announced on October 30th. 

The agreement, which in February 2017 was signed by the then president of the board Paolo Gentiloni to reduce arrivals on the Italian coasts, provides for the provision of funds for detention centers in Libya and the training and financing of the so-called guard Libyan coast, a military corps established in 2017 and in many cases formed by militiamen and dangerous traffickers, as has been shown also by numerous surveys, even recent, published by Avvenire, L’Espresso , Propaganda Live .

According to sources close to the government, the changes being worked on based on Article 7 of the Memorandum would concern the presence of humanitarian organizations within the detention centers>

The possibility of reactivating evacuation and repatriation programs and in general the improvement of the conditions in the 19 official governmental centers, where at the moment the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have very limited access (as documented by many journalists and various reports, the detention centers are actually run by militias who compete for control of the territory). 

The United Nations would also be asked to invest more in alternative programs to detention, such as the “urban” programs already active in Tripoli which provide for the provision of grants for refugee housing in a country that is not considered safe by international authorities.

Changes to the Memorandum, which in any case must be approved by the Libyan counterpart, would not change the general structure of the agreement.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the violation of human rights, the Libyan authorities have been unable or unwilling to end the violence

In government centers three to three thousand people are held in inhuman conditions.

Unsmil and Ohchr, the two organs of the United Nations that in December 2018 have compiled a report, have also denounced the inability of the Libyan authorities to limit and counter the mass violence against migrants in the centers. 

The two organizations had already published a report in 2016 on the violence in the North African country, but “despite the overwhelming evidence of the violation of human rights, the Libyan authorities have been unable or unwilling to end the violence”. 

Dozens of reports drawn up by associations and international organizations for the defense of human rights have collected evidence and testimonies, reaching the same conclusions.

Recently the investigation by Nello Scavo of the daily Avvenire proved that one of the traffickers with whom Rome treated in 2017 to block migrants’ departures, Abd al Rahman al Milad, known as Bija, also came to Italy to visit reception centers along with a delegation of Libyan coastguards. 

As reconstructed by the journalist Francesca Mannocchi on the Espresso , Bijia, head of the coast guard of Zawya, would have participated in several meetings and would have been received also by the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Justice, as well as in the headquarters of the Italian coast guard and the naval mission European Eunavformed.

In the Mannocchi interview, the Libyan trafficker confirmed that there would be a negotiation between the Italian government and the Libyans for blocking migrant departures. 

Already in 2017, several investigations had highlighted the existence of a secret negotiation parallel to the institutional one, which would have taken place between the Italian diplomacy and the Libyan traffickers, to block the departures of boats headed to Italy. 

In July 2017 in a week departures from Libya in fact fell sharply, starting a trend destined to continue.

A few weeks after the sudden drop in departures, several journalistic inquiries conducted by Reuters, the Associated Press and Le Monde revealed that the militias who were part of the Dabbashi clan of Sabratha – the 48th Brigade and the Amu Brigade – were responsible of the block of departures. 

According to Reuters, the 48th Brigade took money from the national unity government led by Fayez al Sarraj to keep migrants in detention centers and not let them leave. 

For the Associated Press instead it would have been the Italian intelligence to conduct secret negotiations with the Dabbashi militias to stop the departures in exchange for money and equipment. 

Mannocchi on Middle East Eye spoke of a $ 5 million bribe paid by Italian intelligence to Sabratha’s capiclan.

A disputed agreement
The memorandum of understanding between Rome and Tripoli has been the subject of criticism both in Libya and in Italy since its ratification. 

Lawyers and lawyers have questioned it immediatelylegitimacy from both sides of the Mediterranean, because the agreement was approved without any parliamentary passage. 

But it was above all the public funds used to finance it that had been impeached, in the face of the continuing reports of human rights violations both by the so-called Libyan coast guard and within government detention centers. 

According to Oxfam, from 2017 Italy has spent over 150 million euros to pay for the training of personnel engaged in Libyan detention centers and to provide means for patrolling at sea and on land to the so-called coast guard. 

However the money allocated to finance the Memorandum comes from different funds and is not completely known.
On 29 October, the Asylum Table, a federation of all immigration organizations in Italy, appealed to the prime minister Giuseppe Conte to ask for the agreement to be revoked. 

“We strongly ask that the Italian government and parliament immediately cancel the 2017 memorandum and the previous agreements with the Libyan government and that, without prejudice to humanitarian interventions, those of support to the Libyan authorities in managing and controlling flows are not refinanced. migratory ”, is written in the letter.

On October 30 at 3:00 pm, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio will answer a question time at the Chamber on the agreement. 

“We will ask the Foreign Minister to evaluate his agreements and if there is any intention to change them,” explains the spokesman of the parliamentary group of the Democratic Party Lia Quartapelle.” 

“We will ask that those camps be closed or that access be granted to non-governmental organizations, that alternative forms of detention be offered such as rent support and that European humanitarian channels be opened up”.

Quartapelle says that in any case most of the PD’s parliamentarians do not want the agreements to be revoked: “I think it is worse to revoke the agreements than to keep them, because in this way we can put pressure on the Tripoli government.”

 Matteo Orfini, of different opinion, stresses: “The Memorandum was a mistake, never discussed by the parliament, because it recognized as a partner a country that violates human rights in a systematic way and that arises from a huge hypocrisy, to have Libyans make rejections which for us are illegal.

Today we have the certainty of what is happening in Libya, therefore the idea that three years later and with the current war we are going to the tacit renewal of the agreements without a real discussion in parliament and in the party it is chilling ”. 

On the changes Orfini is skeptical: “Those agreements are torn up,

Update: Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, speaking to the Chamber, confirmed that the Memorandum of Understanding will not be revoked, but that changes will be requested to improve it. “

A reduction in Italian assistance could result in a suspension of the activities of the Libyan coastguard with consequent greater departures and worsening conditions for migrants in the centers,” said Di Maio. 

To make changes Di Maio said he will convene “a meeting of the joint Italian-Libyan Commission, foreseen by article 3 of the memorandum”. 

The minister explained that “in particular we should encourage further involvement of the UN, the international community and civil society organizations to improve assistance to migrants rescued at sea and conditions in the centers,


Annalisa Camilli – journalist for Internazionale.




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