Haftar vows to confront Italian ships in Libyan waters

Lawrence Cooper
August 5, 2017

The Libyan eastern commander of Operation Dignity, Khalifa Haftar, has ordered his air force and navy force troops to destroy any ships that are not commercial inside the Libyan waters. Italy controlled Libya from 1911 to 1943, fighting a series of bitter wars against Libyan resistance forces. However, al-Farraj's foreign ministry allowed that Italian ships could call in Tripoli "to provide logistical and technical support to the Libyan coastguard".

Italy, which is facing elections next year, has told its European neighbors it is struggling to deal with the influx of people seeking refuge, but efforts to spread asylum seekers across the EU or stop people embarking on the unsafe Mediterranean crossing have so far largely failed.

In an effort to curb trafficking, Italy's parliament on Wednesday authorised a limited naval mission to help Libya's coastguard curb migrant flows.

But that approach has been criticised by worldwide rights groups who say people returned to troubled Libya face detention in squalid camps and abuse at the hands of traffickers.

"After a long and meticulous search, we were let go but I want to stress that we were free to leave at any time, and at this stage the direction of the investigation of Trapani's Prosecutor Office against aiding illegal migrants remains unknown".

About 95,000 maritime migrants arrived in Italy aboard NGO and government rescue vessels during the first seven months of the year. They allegedly noted at least three incidents when, instead of being rescued at sea, the migrants were simply "handed over" to the crew by people smugglers. Aid groups say they are only fulfilling their humanitarian duty to save lives.

Italy did not spell out the consequences for those that did not sign up, but on Wednesday, the Italian coastguard halted at sea a boat operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet, which had said "No".

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"The evidence is serious".

Jugend Rettet was among six of nine NGOs operating search-and-rescue activities in waters off Libya to reject the new rules, but Cartosio said there was no link between the investigation and the refusal to sign the code. In a Facebook update Wednesday, the group reported that "the ship was seized by Italian authorities and is now to be brought to Sicily".

Some officials believe boats being sent back to Libyan ports will have a powerful deterrent effect on would-be migrants considering paying traffickers for passage to Europe.

The IOM says that the number of asylum seekers entering Europe by sea in 2017 (through to July 30) is around 100,000 less than the same period the year before.

According to the latest figures from the global Organization for migration (IOM), more than 111 000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea since the first of January, of which almost 95 000 in Italy.

Thousands have died attempting the perilous journey usually in rickety and overcrowded boats.

The migrant crisis looms as a campaign issue in Italy's 2018 elections. Italy, which was once a point of transit for migrants moving up to northern Europe, has become a place of settlement.

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