Italy Embarks on Controversial Mission to Curb Refugee Flow from Libya

Italy Embarks on Controversial Mission to Curb Refugee Flow from Libya

Italian officials complain that these boats, funded by private contributions mostly from Europe, act as a "ferry service" to Italy for migrants, who are dispatched by smugglers in rubber and wooden boats and then picked up outside Libya's 12-mile limit by the NGOs for transport to Sicily.

Rome has also put pressure on non-governmental organisations that have played an increasingly important role in picking up migrants off the Libyan coast and bringing them to Italy.

Fayez al-Sarraj, the prime minister of the UN-backed government controlling western Libya, denied having asked Italy to send naval vessels into Libya's territorial waters.

Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar has ordered forces under his command to bar foreign vessels from entering the country's waters, a spokesman said Thursday, after Italy gave the go-ahead to a Libya naval mission to stem the growing tide of illegal immigration.

The bodies of eight migrants have been found at sea off the coast of Libya by rescuers coming to the aid of four rubber dinghies, the Italian coastguard said Tuesday.

Factions opposed to Libya's Tripoli-based government also voiced their opposition to the Italian operation. Italy controlled Libya from 1911 to 1943, fighting a series of bitter wars against Libyan resistance forces.

"(We will) provide logistical, technical and operational support for Libyan naval vessels, helping them and supporting them in shared and coordinated actions", Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said ahead of Wednesday's vote. After a surge in migrant arrivals from Libya at the start of the year, the number of newcomers has slowed.

Hundreds of thousands of people, a lot of them economic migrants ineligible for asylum, have been brought ashore in Italy after rescue in the last few years.




Most migrants have fled poverty in Nigeria and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Migrants picked up in Libyan coastal waters - and not global waters - can be legally returned to Libya، but aid workers say conditions in migrant reception camps there are dire.

The move to impound the Iuventa came as Italy began enforcing a controversial code of conduct for charity boats rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

Objections to the Italian demands included rejecting a provision permitting armed police on board the rescue ships and not being allowed to transfer migrants to another vessel in order to continue other rescues, instead being forced back to port.

But Italians are getting exhausted of playing host to thousands of migrants.

On Wednesday, just days after the group refused to sign, one of the Jugend Rettet's ships was stopped off the island of Lampedusa by the Italian coast guard for a surprise inspection that resulted in the ship being seized while its crew members are investigated for abetting illegal immigration by a local Sicilian magistrate.

The migrant crisis looms as a campaign issue in Italy's 2018 elections. There was no immediate comment from Jugend Rettet.

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