Italy hosted a meeting between European and North African countries yesterday (20 March) with the aim to boost support for a deal that Rome had earlier struck with Tripoli to fight people smuggling as migrant arrivals soar once more. The Libyan prime minister of the UN-backed government in Tripoli, Fayez Al-Seraj, met with Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, interior ministers from eight European countries including Germany, France, Austria, Malta, Slovenia and Switzerland as well as the interior ministers of Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. The EU commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, was also attending.
Italy wants to form a permanent “contact group” between European and North African countries that addresses migration issues. After the so-called Balkan route had been closed and an EU deal with Turkey completed, more migrants attempted the hazardous route from North Africa across the Mediterranean towards Italy. To address the issue, last month, Rome pledged money, equipment and trainings to help Libya fight smugglers, in a deal that was backed by Brussels. However, Libya is far from stable and two governments are trying to get control of the country – in Tobruk to the east and in Tripoli to the west.
The authorities in eastern Libya have rejected the deal struck between Italy and the government in Tripoli. “I’m not so naive as to not understand the situation there,” Italian interior minister Marco Minniti commented when asked about lawlessness and continuous factional fighting in the country. “But we cannot remain immobile and wait for the country to stabilize.” This year, Italy has already seen a 36 percent increase in the number of rescued migrants compared to the same period last year. As part of the agreement, Rome and Brussels have promised to fund migrant camps on Libyan soil, but they need UN agencies to help manage them.