Italy Transfers Patrol Vessels to Libyan Coast Guard

File image courtesy Guardia Costiera

Published Aug 7, 2018 8:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

Despite rights groups' persistent concerns over the widespread abuse of migrants within Libya, Italy's senate has voted overwhelmingly in favor of providing more resources to Libya's coast guard, which is tasked with returning maritime migrants to Libyan shores. 

The new measure will provide Libya with ten "500 Class" patrol boats from the Italian coast guard and two Corrubià class 90-foot boats from Italy's Guardia di Finanza. It passed by a margin of 382 votes to 11. 

"With this decree, the Government intends to help Tripoli to better guard its SAR sea area in order to save more human lives and discourage the departure of [migrant boats]," said Italy's ministry of transport in a statement. 

Paolo Formentini, a member of the anti-immigration League party, described the donation of border patrol equipment as a validation of League's "closed doors, open hearts" policy. "We are the first to say that it is not enough to close [borders], but we must also . . . support the economy and work in the countries of origin by investing resources," he said. 

Last year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described European support for the Libyan Coast Guard as "inhumane," given the "unimaginable horrors" that await migrants who are brought back to Libyan detention centers. The EU and UN do not consider Libya a "safe" destination for vessels to offload rescued individuals. 

Spain cricizes Italian migration policy

The League party's leader, interior minister Matteo Salvini, has altered the pattern of rescue operations off Libya by closing Italy's ports to almost all vessels carrying migrants. Rescue NGOs, rights groups and foreign leaders have criticized the policy for reducing rescue assets on-scene and raising the risk of casualties at sea. 

In an interview Monday, Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell accused Salvini of "doing politics at the expense of not just Spain, but at the expense of all of Europe,” and described the port closure as a "brutal isolation policy." Salvini countered that Spain is encouraging “out-of-control immigration," pointing to the Spanish government's willingness to receive vessels that Italy has turned away.