Last week some UN speakers criticised EU countries for not allowing illegal migrants to disembark in a safe Mediterranean port. According to Libya’s coastguard almost 500 migrants had been brought back to the North African country in order to save their lives.

UN supported aid agencies condemned the transfer of illegal migrants to Libyan detention centres in which they could face abuse, lack of medical care, rape and forced labour.

Libya’s western shores are the main departure point for migrants mainly from sub-Saharan countries trying to reach Europe. Since July 2017, because of an agreement reached by the former Italian Minister of the Interior, smuggling networks inside Libya have been disrupted. The Libyan coast guard has stepped up patrols after receiving boats from Italy.

Sources of Brussels claim that 92 million EU funds have been allocated for the municipalities in Libya, whose leadership is the expression of the main 14 tribes, and another 91.3 for border control.

Italy is officially present in Libya with the MIASIT mission of assistance and support to the Government of national agreement of Al Sarraj. It entails the employment of 400 soldiers, 130 land, naval, and air vehicles. The mission has allowed the construction of a military field hospital in Misurata that offers 30 beds. No safety or incident problems have occurred until today.

It has been highlighted that the alarm system for shipping in the Mediterranean had received the distress signal of the vessel off the coast of Misurata. “We have called all numbers of the operating room of the Coast Guard of Tripoli – NGO operators say – but we have not received an answer. We have warned Italy and Malta that Libya is not reachable. No one has activated a rescue operation “. The Italian Coast Guard has specified that as soon as it became aware of the emergency “as required by the international regulations on the SAR” it immediately contacted the Libyan Coast Guard. (The incident happened within the area of Libyan jurisdiction).

When NGOs have accused European powers of sending illegal migrants to inhumane detention centres Italy spoke of “migrants saved and brought back to Libya”, where there are “centres of the UN High Commission for Refugees”

The spokesperson of the UN agency Ms. Sani recalled that those brought back to Libya go to detention centres where UN personnel have limited access and that “The return of people from international waters to Libya is against international law because there is no safe haven in Libya to date “.

While some analysts continue to declare that “there is no correlation between the sea rescue activities carried out by the NGOs and the landings on the Italian shores” an NGO ship, continues to operate under a Dutch flag and insisting on bringing rescued illegal migrants to Italian shores.

The Italian government’s request the Dutch government to take responsibility for the migrants rescued by the ship carrying its flag. “As long as there are no European-level structural agreements for migrants, the Netherlands will not adopt ad hoc solutions”, the Foreign Ministry told the Dutch media. “We have taken note of the Italian request, but the Sea Watch 3 is not our responsibility”, they explain from The Hague.

The lax system currently in place is ill suited to face both the migrant and the terrorist issues, two issues which are becoming increasingly intertwined and threaten the security of European citizens in a manner impossible to ignore.

It is time for the EU to start thinking concretely about how to solve the problem of illegal migrants in the Mediterranean sea without leaving Italy and Malta alone. The problem is as urgent as the end of winter is approaching and it will be easier to bring on the Libyan shores those who want to try their luck in Europe. There are two months left to the Spring and four months to the European elections. If there is a European solidarity it is time to prove itself.

Giuseppe Morabito

Ermete Del Buono