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Italy & the European Commission clash over Libya

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

ROME – There was a clash on Friday between Italy’s Interior Ministry and the European Commission on whether Libya can be considered a safe port for migrants to be returned to.

This came after Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, updated a directive issued last week to prohibit ships carrying migrants from entering Italian territorial waters and declares Libya a safe haven.

Salvini also invited the leaders of the Italian police, Navy and Coast Guard “to guarantee to the Libyan authorities the legitimate exercise of their responsibilities in the management of search and rescue procedures”.

Salvini reiterated the “full legitimacy of Libyan rescue operations, also because the presence of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) guarantees the respect of the immigrants’ rights and at the same time faster rescues”.

The Italian Interior Ministry said Salvini’s updated directive had been issued “in light of the opinion of the European Commission”.

However, the spokesperson of the European Commission for Migration, Natasha Bertaud, said during a press briefing in Brussels that Libya “can not be considered a safe haven” for migrants.

Salvini’s statements also prompted an immediate reaction from both the United Nations and IOM which denounced his statements and affirmed that Libya is not a safe harbor for migrants.

“We do not consider Libya a safe haven and the refugees rescued and migrants should not be brought back to that country,” said the spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Carlotta Sami.

The IOM also said it upheld the United Nations stance that Libya cannot be considered a safe port.

“We confirm that Libya cannot be considered a safe haven and the IOM is no guarantee of respect for human rights in the country,” spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said.

“We are present at the landing points and provide first assistance but then the migrants are transferred to closed detention centers where children are also sent and it is an arbitrary detention, so even if we are authorized to enter these centers and provide materials and forms for voluntary returns in the countries of origin, the IOM does not manage them or in any way guarantee respect for human rights,” he said.

In February 2017, Italy made a deal, backed by the European Union, to spend tens of millions of euros funding the Libyan Coast Guard of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which intercepts boats heading for Italy and returns those on-board to Libya.

The United Nations and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, do not consider Libya to be a safe harbor for migrants as severe abuse and crimes were reported to have been committed inside detention centers in Libya.

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