The European Union should send back to Libya all migrants rescued in the central Mediterranean, Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said yesterday, after a new batch of arrivals in Pozzallo, Sicily.
A total of 447 people were disembarked, Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told DPA.
This was after Italy’s government got other European Union nations to agree to take in some of them.
Sharing the burden of the arrivals “is a first significant step forward, but the solution is not sharing among European countries, but blocking [migrant] departures,” Salvini said in a press conference during a visit to Moscow.
“[We should] save, rescue, treat, feed and return [migrants] to where they came from, one by one [...] the European Union must convince itself that it is the only solution to get out of this tunnel,” he added.
“The objective is to change the rules and make Libyan ports safe ports,” Salvini said, calling for an end to a long-standing policy of considering the conflict-ridden north African nation too dangerous for migrants’ well-being.
According to the United Nations, migrants in Libya face arbitrary detention in substandard conditions in official detention centres, and torture, extortion, forced labour and unlawful killing in unofficial facilities run by traffickers.
In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud rowed back against Salvini’s idea.
“No European operation and no European vessel carries out disembarkation in Libya. This is because we do not consider it to be a safe country,” she said.
The migrants who arrived in Pozzallo spent time in an unofficial Libyan detention camp and many suffer from malnutrition and scabies, Di Giacomo said.
They set off from the Libyan port of Zuwarah on July 11, he added.
They were picked up on Saturday, after they ran out of food and water, by a British vessel deployed in a mission by EU border agency Frontex and by a boat of the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s customs police.
A day before the rescue, some 30 migrants jumped off their overcrowded ship in the hope of reaching a boat spotted in the distance, and four drowned, according to survivors interviewed by IOM staff.
One victim was a minor, di Giacomo said.
On Sunday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote on Twitter and Facebook that France, Malta, Germany, Spain and Portugal had each agreed to host 50 of the migrants.
Ireland should take an additional 20, an Italian government source added yesterday.
The sharing agreement is a positive development but “ad hoc solutions such as this cannot be sustainable in the long term”, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said in Brussels, urging EU states to reach more solid agreements.
Migration has become one of the most intractable issues for EU governments, even if figures show that asylum requests and sea arrivals have fallen significantly from peak figures reached in 2015-2016.
Italy has a new populist administration which is leading a crusade against migrant arrivals.
One of its first decisions has been to prevent charity-run ships from taking migrants rescued at sea to Italian ports.
Non-governmental organisations say that this strategy is responsible for a reported increase in deaths at sea, as the fate of migrants is increasingly left in the hands of a poorly-equipped, EU-funded, Libyan coastguard.
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