Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said earlier this week that the Italian government was positive about curbing migrant flows from Libya after the number of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores went down in recent months. The United Nations, however, warned that Rome’s strategy to draft a code regulating the operations of humanitarian rescue vessels could lead to more deaths.
“This code of conduct and the overall action plan suggest that Italy, the EU Commission and the EU Member states deem the risks and the reality of deaths at sea a price worth paying in order to deter migrants and refugees,” Agnes Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
Immigration is the number one issue on Italy’s political agenda and rules the pre-election campaign ahead of general elections due next year. The Italian public is getting increasingly hostile towards migrants since nearly 600,000 have arrived in the country over the past four years. After a rise in migrant arrivals from Libya at the beginning of this year, the influx has slowed down this year with about 97,000 people having reached Italy – a decrease by 4.15% year-on-year.
Italy has addressed the immigration problem with a dual track strategy. Rome is helping Libya to address smuggling but at the same time it is putting pressure on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) pursuing rescue operations in the Mediterranean. “It was important to intervene on the other side of the Mediterranean and we have focused on Libya. It seemed difficult, but it now appears that something is moving,” he added.
Italy has helped Libya train members of the coastguard and upgrade its fleet supported by EU funding. Mr. Minniti said that Italy would now pay attention to the living conditions of migrants brought back to Libya and distribute aid in the cities of Sabratha and Zowarah – two major hubs for migrant smugglers. Mr. Minniti also added that “a democratic country (like Italy) does not chase migrants flows, but governs them… ungoverned flows threaten a country’s democracy. Italy is not retreating but remains firmly committed to rescues at sea.”