Italy focuses on Libya mission to manage migrant crisis

AP News
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Posted: Aug 01, 2017 9:26 AM
Italy focuses on Libya mission to manage migrant crisis

MILAN (AP) — Italy is putting its hopes for managing the migrant crisis on a new, Libya-requested mission to support the North African nation's coast guard after suffering a rebuke by humanitarian groups.

Italian ministers were briefing parliamentary committees Tuesday on a mission approved by the Cabinet to deploy the navy to aid the Libyan coast guard in its territorial waters. A vote could come as early as Wednesday.

Premier Paolo Gentiloni says the mission could become a "turning point" in Italy's bid to manage the unrelenting flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea. The U.N. migration agency says 94,802 migrants have arrived in Italy this year through Sunday, up 11 percent over last year and 85 percent of the European total. They estimate that 2,221 people have drowned this year alone on the central Mediterranean route.

Italy's bid to get 10 humanitarian groups to agree to new rules of conduct for rescuing people from the Mediterranean failed when at least four, including Doctors Without Borders, refused to sign on Monday.

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.

Doctors Without Borders general director Gabriele Eminente said her charity would continue to work in the Mediterranean "but at the moment, I don't understand what the failure to sign means."

The Italian government has said humanitarian groups who do not agree to the new rules could be refused access to Italian ports.

In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud also said that if the groups "adhere to some principles and operational standards, in line with international law, then they will have the assurance that they can access Italian ports."

But it seems unlikely that Italy could deprive them of access to its ports. Under international law, vessels that have rescued people must not be subject to undue delay, financial burden or other difficulties, according to the U.N.'s refugee agency.

At least three groups accepted the Italian government's rules: Save the Children, Malta's MOAS and the Spanish group Proactiva. The Commission is encouraging more to sign up.

Italy drafted the code of conduct after prosecutors in Sicily alleged that some non-governmental organizations had been colluding with the smugglers who send boatloads of migrants out daily from Libya, for example by signaling their presence in one area of the sea.

Groups including Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders denied the allegations, and said the claims undermined their humanitarian work by creating a climate of mistrust.

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Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.