Italy to Deploy Naval Ships in Libyan Waters to Stem Migrant Flow

Prime Minister Gentiloni described the operation as a potential turning point in the refugee crisis.

Italy’s parliament has authorized a naval operation inside the territorial waters of Libya to stem the flow of illegal migrants. Until now, the EU member states did not have the authorization to enter the Libyan waters to curb people traffickers across the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy’s decision was met with outrage from leftist open-borders activists and aid groups. Amnesty International called the move to dispatch naval ships into Libyan waters “a shameful attempt by the Italian authorities to circumvent their duty to rescue refugees and migrants at sea.” The naval mission will “endanger migrants,” lamented Human Rights Watch. Italy justified the operation, saying it has been authorized by Libya’s government.

The German public broadcaster ARD reports:

Italy's parliament has approved the military operation off the Libyan coast to combat people smuggling. The resolution of the Italian government, brought at the request of Fayez al-Sarraj-led Libyan government, was supported by 328 out of 630 MPs. Subsequently, the Senate also gave its approval by casting 170 votes in favour. Italian soldiers can now give technical and logistical support to the coast guard of the civil-war ravaged nation -- even inside Libya’s territorial waters.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni described the operation as a potential turning point in the refugee crisis. Italy hopes to stabilise the war ravaged country and get a better grip over the migrant routes through this operation. [Translation by author]

Italy’s move to deploy naval ships in the Libyan waters coincides with its crackdown on NGOs and activist groups aiding people traffickers. The Italian coast guard impounded a German "rescue boat" for allegedly aiding illegal immigration.

The British newspaper Daily Express reports:

Rome has begun imposing a controversial code of conduct for NGOs operating in the Mediterranean which is designed to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving at its shores. (…)

Earlier today Italian coastguard intercepted a rescue ship called the Iuventa, run by the German charity Jugend Rettet, off the island of Lampedusa which is the arrival point for most migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

The organisation initially insisted that the vessel had not been impounded and that the crew had not been arrested, but said it had no further information on its status.

However, a police spokesman later confirmed that the boat had been indeed since been impounded by the authorities “on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration”.

Earlier this year, an Italian prosecutor had accused aid groups of colluding with people traffickers.

British newspaper Independent had quoted the Sicily-based prosecutor, Carmelo Zuccaro, saying, “We have evidence that there are direct contacts between certain NGOs and people traffickers in Libya.”

“Charities were making telephone calls to Libya, helping to guide smugglers’ ships in Libyan as well as international waters and advising them to turn off transponders to avoid detection,” an Italian prosecutor added.