Italy urges EU, UN to tackle migrant crisis in Africa

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said there has to be a strong presence of the international organisations in the area south of Libya.

By (AFP)

Published: Wed 22 Apr 2015, 7:59 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 8:40 PM

Migrants stand on board of Italian Navy ship Chimera before to be disembarked in the southern harbour of Salerno. -Reuters

Rome — Italy on Wednesday called on the European Union and UN to set up operations in African countries south of Libya to help stem the flow of migrants heading for Europe.

“We have to go to the root (of the problem) and discourage these men and women from leaving their countries,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told deputies in a statement to parliament on his objectives for Thursday’s emergency EU summit on the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

“There has to be a strong presence of the international organisations in the area south of Libya. It is vital that the EU as a bloc tries to go into these areas along with the United Nations.”

Renzi specifically mentioned Libya’s neighbours Niger and Sudan, both transit countries for migrants making their way to Libya, where people traffickers are able to operate with impunity because of the absence of any central authority in the conflict-torn country.

The Italian premier did not go into the detail of what UN agencies should do in the African states.

A number of European countries have raised the idea of asylum-seekers having their requests for refuge in the EU assessed before they get to the point of embarking on life-risking crossings of the Mediterranean.

Officials have also raised the idea of a pilot scheme to provide funds for migrants deemed to have no claim to enter the EU to be fast-tracked back to their countries of origin.

Carrying out triage operations of this kind in Libya is not feasible at the moment because of the security situation in the country which has resulted in many Western governments withdrawing nearly all of their diplomats.

Renzi said the EU also had to step up rescue operations at sea to reduce the loss of life among those who do attempt the crossing.

He did not refer to the idea of “targeted interventions” against people traffickers which he had floated earlier this week.

Renzi said he was hopeful that EU governments would belatedly hear Italy’s pleas for help in coping with the challenging migrant flow following a weekend disaster in which 800 people are feared to have perished in a shipwreck off Libya.

“I have seen the reaction there has been in recent hours. The calling of an EU summit is an extraordinary step,” Renzi said. “I’m optimistic we will see a change of gear.”

He said Europe was morally bound to act.

“Fighting people trafficking means fighting the slave traders of the 21st century. It is not only a question of security and terrorism — it is about human dignity.”

EU foreign ministers have already approved plans to double the funding of the bloc’s Mediterranean maritime border patrol mission Triton. But refugee bodies say it will remain inadequate and have urged Italy to resume larger scale naval patrols off Libya.

The EU has also said it will seek to capture and destroy vessels used by people smugglers.

How this is to be done has yet to be elaborated and it is unclear whether the supply of boats can realistically be constrained to a point of making a difference.

Even if the EU can stem the flow of refugees to Libya they will still have to deal with large numbers of people already in the North African state with the intention of travelling on to Europe. Italian lawmakers have said they could number as many as a million.

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