In 12 months 100,000 landings. Errors, hypocrisy, propaganda: that’s who was wrong | Milena Gabanelli

The revolving doors to Europe

Migrant pressure begins to be felt on the Italian coasts in 2011, a year in which the landings will be 64,261 overall against 4,450 in 2010. The bulk of departures are from Libya overwhelmed by the instability of the post-Gaddafi period and from where thousands are attempting the crossing to Europe via Italy. Together with the numbers, the deaths at sea also rise. On 3 October 2013 there was a tragic shipwreck on the Isola dei Conigli: 366 drowned. Driven by worldwide outrage, on 18 October 2013, Enrico Letta’s government kicked off the Mare Nostrum operation, cost 9.5 million a month and all at our expense (there is only the support of Slovenia). Two objectives: to patrol with navy ships up close to the Libyan coast, to rescue and fight traffickers. In one year 366 smugglers arrested and 166,682 landings (here the document). But they don’t weigh too much: the reception centers empty quickly because most of the migrants leave for Northern Europe.

Photosignaling complicates things

In 2014 the story changes: Europe accuses Italy of violating the Dublin Regulation and to allow unidentified migrants to transit through European countries. On 25 September, the Ministry of the Interior was forced to issue a circular: “Foreigners must always be subjected to reporting findings” (here the document). The measurements must be transmitted within 72 hours to the central Eurodac system, the European fingerprint database for those who cross a European border illegally. From that moment the revolving doors get complicated. Mare Nostrum ends and, in May 2015, Operation Sophia starts which does the same things as Mare Nostrum, but with European military and police forces under Italian command. In two years (2015-2016) there were 335,278 landings and, at the end of 2016, the situation was out of control. Revolt of the mayors, even of the centre-left: “We no longer know where to put the migrants”. In December of the same year. the Gentiloni government appoints Marco Minniti as Minister of the Interior. He knows Libya well and his mandate is to remove the chestnuts from the fire. And in Libya Minniti goes.

Minniti’s 15 months at the Interior Ministry

On February 2, 2017, the Italy-Libya Memorandum was signed: an agreement between the Italian government and the Libyan coast guard to stop departures by sea. In July, also in 2017, agreements were signed with the mayors of Fezzan to block the migratory route entering Libya (here the document) from Algeria, Niger, Chad, offering in exchange economic support for the development of local communities. The project is also financed by the EU, as is the voluntary repatriation (managed by the UN agency Iom) from Libyan detention centers to their countries of origin with a budget in their pocket to start a new life. From 2017 to today, there have been around 48,000 repatriations. Following the agreement with the High Commissioner for Refugees Unhcr (here the document) for emergency evacuations at the expense of the Italian State with destination Rome. From the end of 2017 to 2019, 913 people entitled to protection and fragile ones were transferred from detention centers to Rome on humanitarian flights. A small number, but in Libya gangs of extortionists rule and we have to deal with them. Transfers resume in 2021 with the involvement of the Ministry of the Interior, the Community of Sant’Egidio and Evangelical Churches. 500 people saved from the horror of prisons. The fact is that between May 2017 and May 2018 landings dropped to 72,571 and continued to drop until August 2019, to 28,505. Meanwhile the government has changed and Matteo Salvini arrives in place of Minniti.

The institutional hypocrisies

The agreement with the Libyan coastguard was universally condemned: prevents departures, but many migrants are taken to unofficial centers where they are forced into forced labour, tortured, women raped. It happened with Gaddafi, it happens later. That agreement expired in 2020, but the Italian government (Pd, M5S), after heavily criticizing it, renews it. Just as the Meloni government does again on November 3rd, while the situation in Libya is even worse than before. Everyone considers it a scandalous agreement, but then nobody cancels it. Libya is one of the few countries in the world that has never signed the 1951 Geneva Convention which requires respect for human rights. Bombed in 2011 under the NATO flag, dictator Gaddafi executed in 2015, the only legitimate government recognized by the United Nations is that of Al-Sarraj. At that point the UN could ask the Libyan premier to sign the Geneva Convention, but he doesn’t do it, the EU and no single member state asks for it. So much so that the UNHCR protects refugees in Libya from its office in Tunis. A base in Tripoli was opened in 2017, when Minniti obtained from Al-Serraj the security guarantees for the humanitarian personnel who must enter the detention centers and select the most fragile to evacuate them through the humanitarian corridor.

What’s happening in Europe: relocation agreements

Meanwhile in the EU with two decisions of the Council1523 of July 2015 and 1601 of September of the same year, a relocation system is envisaged in favor of Italy for 39,600 migrants. It is what is commonly defined as mandatory relocation: it means that Europe agrees to take part of our asylum-seekers, which between 26 September 2015 and 26 September 2017 numbered 36,345. In the end, 12,740 will be taken (Germany, for example, receives 5,453, France 641). In September 2017 the sentence of the European Court of Justice also arrives which, by rejecting the appeal of Hungary and Slovakia against the relocations from Italy, forcefully reaffirms the principle of solidarity redistribution of refugees. Principle not acceptedHowever, by the chancelleries of Budapest, Warsaw and Prague (Visegrad countries) which oppose it. Once the agreement expired, at the first meeting of the Council, Conte and Salvini do not insist and we are moving towards optional redistribution which, in the end, materializes in the Luxembourg agreement in June 2022, strongly desired by the Minister of the Interior Luciana Lamorgese. The agreement provides for the annual relocation of around 10,000 asylum-seekers. As of mid-November 2022, only 117 have been relocated.

The new departures from Libya: the influence of Russia

In 2018 Salvini withdraws the Sophia mission from Libyan waters to deal only with national borders andfrom there on, the operation goes towards dismantling (March 2020). Meanwhile, chaos explodes in Libya, Italian political influence disappears and Turkish influence arrives in Tripolitania and Russian influence in Cyrenaica. Departures have resumed since 2021 and this year, out of 94,341 landings (as of November 24), over half of the migrants arrive from Libya, of which over 30,000 from Tripolitania and, for the first time, over 17,000 from Cyrenaica. And the big boats leave from there. In the same period last year, departures from the two Libyan regions were respectively 24,697 and 2,276. It cannot be ruled out that there is pressure from Russia in Cyrenaica. But from which countries do the migrants leaving Libya come from? Mainly from Egypt (17,678), Bangladesh (13,794), Syria (5,863), followed by Eritrea and Pakistan. If we also include arrivals from Turkey and Tunisia and other countries, on the Italian coasts in the last 12 months there have been more than 100,000 landings. The reception system can handle no more than 70,000. We are back to square one.

What to ask of Europe: regular flows

All the propaganda about closed ports, impossible to implement, has once again exploded in our hands. After ten years we should have understood that migrations are not an emergency, but a structural fact that must be governed because there will always be. Because of wars, climate change, the search for better living conditions. We need to teach how to live with migrants, which we also need. It is useless to insist on a division relying on European solidarity, which will not exist. According to the latest data available, Spain has to deal with over 100,000 irregular migrants, France with almost 500,000, Germany with 1.2 million, while Hungary and Poland are managing a few million Ukrainian refugees. While continue to arguing about where migrants arriving with NGOs should land only lengthens the list of hypocrisies: in 2022 they fluctuate around 10% of the total. What realistically we can and must expect from Europe it is, instead, an economic support to do two things: 1) the construction of a civil reception and integration system; 2) agreements with countries on the brink of the abyss to start regular flows. Tunisia and Egypt are negotiating a loan with the International Monetary Fund because they need political and social stabilization. A loan that will be granted on condition that subsidies for primary goods are reduced. It is inevitable that, faced with the lack of hope, young people try a better fate by risking the crossing. We recall that almost all of the landings concern males between 14 and 30 years of age. For this with Tunisia, Egypt, Niger and Bangladesh it is necessary to build an agreement: to grant 20,000 legal entries through the consulate, but with the immediate repatriation of those in excess. Thus the trafficking of human beings is crushed and what follows from it: the dead at sea, and thousands of illegal immigrants given to crime or, at best, to undeclared work.

November 28, 2022 | 06:51


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In 12 months 100,000 landings. Errors, hypocrisy, propaganda: that’s who was wrong | Milena Gabanelli

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