Timid glimmers of hope arrive from Libya, the former Jamahirya of Muammar Gaddafi torn apart by years of civil wars, political divisions and illicit trafficking of fuel, oil and human beings.

An important minister of the Government of National Unity of Tripoli, the administration that controls Tripolitania and which is recognized by the United Nations, has extended its hand to the Libyan National Army of Benghazi, the military coalition led by General Khalifa Haftar that controls Cyrenaica and much of Fezzan.

“We are ready to form a joint force with the General Command (of the east) in the southern region,” said Tripoli’s Interior Minister Imad Trabelsi, speaking yesterday at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli at the event entitled “Optimal border management solutions for a better future”.

“Agenzia Nova” talked about it with Arturo Varvelli, director of the Rome office of European Council on Foreign Relations (Ecfr) and expert on Libya.

“It would not be the first time that internal Libyan actors claim in some way that they want to unite and then instead ignore these chances and possibilities,” says Varvelli, expressing skepticism about Trabelsi’s announcement.

“We have seen on many other occasions the signing of pacts, treaties and road maps under international pressure to achieve certain results and work together. Then the Libyan parties always withdrew in some way and the coordination never started, apart from a few cases.

But the police forces, in this case, never integrated,” recalls Varvelli. Nevertheless, according to Minister Trabelsi, originally from Zintan, an important city in western Libya nestled between the Nefusa mountains and considered fundamental for the political-military balance of Tripolitania, the joint force could be ready “within two or three months”, operating with “a thousand vehicles and 5 thousand policemen from the east, south and west.”

A dossier, that of the security of the Libyan borders, which upon closer inspection also concerns Italy.

According to the latest official Italian data seen by “Agenzia Nova”, the total number of migrants landed in Italy from Libya as of 31 December 2023 was approximately 51.700, of which 16.500 (-19,51 percent) coming from the eastern region of Cyrenaica and 35.200 (+8,31 percent) from the western region of Tripolitania.

Not only. The instability that is affecting all the Sahel countries risks increasing pressure on Libya. Suffice it to say that migratory flows in Niger saw a “strong increase” of 45 percent in January 2024 compared to the previous month of December, when an increase had already been observed following the repeal of law 036/2015, which decriminalized human trafficking by the new military junta in power in Niamey.

Also the catastrophic situation in Sudan, where a civil war is underway, has led to an increase in migratory flows in the south-east of Libya and in particular in the oasis city of Kufra. According to Abdullah Suleiman, spokesperson for the Kufra Municipal Council, waves of Sudanese burst into the city in a sudden and disorderly manner, causing a real humanitarian crisis.

The Subul al Salam militia is active in the region, a battalion inspired by the principles of Salafist Islam affiliated with Haftar. It is these militiamen who control the porous Libyan-Sudanese border and it is they who control the trucks that cross the border with goods, smuggled fuel and illegal migrants.

“The situation in Sudan is tragic and very difficult. Significant flows are expected, which will probably happen now and this is certainly a major source of concern for everyone”, comments Varvelli.

The dynamics of migratory flows in Libya is constantly evolving.

According to the latest Report on information policy for the security of the Italian secret services, “the progressive resumption of the migratory direction from Tripolitania, compared to that from Cyrenaica, confirms the extreme ability of structured criminal groups to adapt their modus operandi to the enforcement actions by local authorities”. Moreover, Minister Trabelsi himself had confirmed in the meeting on 14 February with his Italian counterpart, Matteo Piantedosi, that the problem of illegal immigration in Libya “is getting worse” and that Italy should offer its “support in the development of the capacity of the Libyan police, both through training courses and technical support”.

According to Varvelli,

Trabelsi’s outstretched hand to Haftar

It is above all a response to external pressures. “Of course, it remains to be seen whether any concrete action will actually be taken. It is well known that border control is already difficult under normal conditions of state stability. It is important to remember that even Gaddafi himself was not able to control them completely and had delegated some responsibilities to the Tuareg.

The complete control of these desert frontiers, without defined geographical boundaries, has always been extremely complex”, says the director of Ecfr in Rome.

For Minister Trabelsi, “border security is a question of integrated administration, not of politics. If we are in tune, we will be able to protect our country’s borders within 90 days.”

However, according to Varvelli, the possible coordination between East and West for the control of the southern borders would necessarily also require “political coordination” to define who has authority over which territories and which forces must be involved.

“Although these statements seem positive, it is important to examine them with caution,” underlines the expert, expressing concern about the risk that migratory flows could be exploited to obtain financing, security equipment and military support from Europe.

“In this way, there is the risk of strengthening their power against us: by focusing exclusively on the management of migratory crises, we end up granting them a form of power,” concludes Varvelli.


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