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migrants from libya

Immigration is a business where the bargaining chip, the product of the transaction or the client is a human being. It is a business that moves large amounts of money and many interests. There are those who direct the business from an office in Sudan, those who transport, via ground and sea, those who recruit and those who provide a hiding place for the migrants. A business worth roughly 12 billion, according to the IOM (International Organization for Migration) and one that offers employment opportunities in several nations if one is willing to take part in this illegal activity. The immigration business often benefits from the work of the poor who survive by exploiting the misfortunes of other poor in a market that is never in a crisis because it is fueled by totalitarian regimes, wars, endemic poverty, overpowering and abuse. All of these factors render the risks - especially physical ones - that a migrant faces, while traveling to a different part of the world, acceptable after all.

The organizations that operate in this market are transnational, they survive on the volatility of borders and base their operations on police corruption. They have the flexibility that allows them to open and close a human-trafficking route according to their needs.

Europe gone missing

Illegal immigration has become a central problem for Italy – a country located on the front line – and for Europe, which is torn apart by populism and national egotism.
It is an eternal struggle that includes social, economic, ethical problems and fuels more or less justified fears regarding security, terrorism, the loss of one’s cultural models, religious juxtaposition, xenophobia and intolerance.
The circumstances above explain Europe’s decision to disregard the decision, taken in 2015, to relocate roughly 160 thousand asylum seekers that had arrived in Italy. In the end, only 5000 were accepted by other European nations.
In the past years European countries have built walls, both real and metaphoric. The UK decided to ‘Brexit’ while waving the danger represented by illegal immigration, Hungary held a referendum about immigration and coming elections in several EU countries will have immigration as their central theme.
Instead of using the founding values of the European Union to find a solution, selfishness and partisan interests prevailed once again.

The effects on Italy

While Europe failed to find a solution, Italy’s position worsened. Due to the lack of support from the EU, Italy was forced to face the social, ethical and economic implications of such a mass migration on its own. To make matters worse, the immigrants landing in Italy with the intent to move on to another country (in the past, only about 15% of the immigrants decided to stay in Italy) are now stuck in the peninsula.
Currently, before the advent of winter that slows down the influx of migrants, Italy has already had over 140 thousand new arrivals. But the real figure is must higher, seen that the arrivals in the year 2016 surpass the previous year, 2015, which closed with the record figure of 144 thousand arrivals.

During this year’s initial six months, almost 3 thousand migrants were killed while crossing the Mediterranean sea. This figure is also underrated because it is based on the official numbers and does not include the thousands of casualties that nobody will ever know about. It is nonetheless a figure that quantifies the desperation of those facing the trip and the lack of scruples of those who profit from their plight.

The contingent difficulties faced by Italy do not change the fact that the phenomenon of immigration has international implications and can only be solved through an international effort.
Italy, as the country of arrival, and Libya, the country of departure, are currently the principal players in a social drama that involves many other countries.

immigration murder

The agreement with Gaddafi

The agreement signed in August 2008 (“Treaty of friendship, partnership and cooperation”) between Italy and Gaddafi’s Libya had in a way found a solution to the problem of illegal immigration, although the blackmail-like way in which Gaddafi approached the issue had practically forced Italy to sign the document.

Article 19 of the above-mentioned treaty said that the two parts would intensify cooperation on illegal immigration, that they would promote the construction of a control system along the Libyan borders (including a radar surveillance system, although such system had other goals apart from locating immigrants who crossed the desert). Most importantly, the agreement said that Italy and Libya would have worked jointly on the “definition of initiatives, both bilateral and regional, to prevent the phenomenon of illegal immigration by operating in the countries of origin of the migrants”.

In substance, in exchange for a generous Italian financial donation (5 billion dollars, 6 guard ships, training, equipment of various kinds, the radar surveillance system along Libya’s southern border), Libya agreed to take back the migrants that landed in Italy.

Italian authorities had solved their problem, although they neglected several, ethical, aspects of the issue: the immigrants who were sent back to Libya was jailed and underwent the same vexations that they were trying to escape from, including abuses, sexual violence and exploitation.
Also, the most important aspect of the agreement was left unfulfilled: neither Italy nor Libya ever attempted to stop immigration in the countries of origin. After all, Libya was but a country of transit.

At the time, Gaddafi had been the president of the African Union. He had obtained from a plethora of African chieftains the title of “king of kings”. In other words, he was still influential in the African panorama.

Notwithstanding, in the end, neither Italy nor Libya made efforts to enact their plans.
After the Arab Spring that swept Middle Eastern and North African countries, the 2011 international effort to oust Gaddafi from power and the consequent social chaos which still lasts in Libya, the 2008 agreement became scrap paper.

geddafi berlusconi
Muhamar Gheddafi con Silvio Berlusconi

Looking for solutions

In November 2015 the European Union signed an agreement with Turkey along the same lines of the Italian-Libyan experience: Europe promised Turkey 3 billion euro in aid and Turkey agreed to take back the migrants who try to travel to Europe from there (Turkey is another country of transit). Once again the political context in which the agreement was underwritten made it a veiled form of blackmail on the part of Turkey, with the aggravating circumstance that, while the immigrants from Libya are economic migrants, those from Turkey are chiefly Syrian refugees escaping from the war.
The EU’s approach was wrong once again: they negotiated with the transit country, not the original homeland of the migrants.

But is there a solution to the problem of illegal immigration? As a social phenomenon, it cannot be stopped so long as there exist rich and poor countries and oppressive regimes, but it could be dampened by dealing with the countries of origin. This, of course, is true if the migrants are economic migrants, not political ones.

This is the approach that the Italian government is trying to adopt nowadays. Italy would like to use the EU as their negotiator because they would have more contractual power, but this hasn’t happened this far.

Italy’s main problem is that the migrants arriving in Italy file for international protection and, if they don’t obtain it (60% of the demands are rejected), they cannot be expelled from Italy because their country of origin is not willing to welcome them back. This stalemate can be ended only with negotiations and donations. If Europe had spent the 3 billion euro that they promised Turkey to better relations with the poor nations of sub-Saharan Africa, the effort would have surely had a positive impact on illegal immigration as well.

In the meanwhile, an alternative solution – although partial and not decisive - is still open: a pseudo-negotiation with the Libyan authorities that, being divided into three governments, many militias and an inefficient and corrupt police, have no way of ensuring their part of the deal.

In view of the European weakness, the Italian initiative is justified by the fact that there are no other viable alternatives. Italy has no choice, seen as 90% of the migrants landing on its coastline come from Libya.

The Italian authorities have recently constituted a “joint operations room” with Libya to start a novel cooperation between the two countries. The agreement was sealed with the Government of National Accord led by PM Serraj (this circumstance alone rouses doubts on the eventual subscription of the deal by other parties within Libya).
The deal is also officially aimed at stopping terrorism, but its main purpose is that of curbing immigration.

Libya agreed to patrol and control its southern borders, where the migrants arrive, but it is a well-known fact that the southern region is controlled by the Tuareg (in the area of Sheba), by the Tebu (in the area of Kufra) and by a number of criminal and terrorist factions, not by Serraj and his government. Most importantly, now that the ISIS terrorists have been ousted (or are about to be) from Sirte, many of them have escaped south.

The two countries also agreed to use drones to patrol the Libyan borders, to start various training courses and, obviously, that Libya would receive a conspicuous supply of vehicles and instruments from Italy. This deal is not much different from past deals, with a positive note (the Italian part of the project is participated by the Intelligence Services, the Defense and Interior ministries, while in 2008 the Defense ministry and intelligence services had been excluded from operations) and a negative note (Italy negotiated with a State that is not fully empowered).

In the past, the Libyan State participated in the exploitation of illegal immigration. Nowadays the phenomenon is systematic, seen that the police (who are seldom paid their salaries), Libyans looking to make a living and ISIS terrorists all profit from the business of immigration.

The correlation between terrorism and illegal immigration

We have no evidence that the routes of illegal migrants are used by terrorists to infiltrate Italy. Such evidence did not exist in Gaddafi’s time and it doesn’t exist today. Terrorists want to die martyrs, not on a capsized boat in the middle of the Mediterranean.

Yet illegal immigration, when it is not regulated and supported by adequate welcoming structures, brings with it problems such as social marginalization and frustration; it eases collusion with criminality and terrorism.

In perspective, this kind of immigration is dangerous. It is confirmed by the fact that numerous recent terrorist attacks in European countries have been carried out by Arabs or Muslims that were longtime residents of those countries.

Today, Italy harbors 4 million foreign (legal) residents plus a multitude of illegal aliens – the so-called “invisible” migrants – whose numbers are not known.

Someday, among the latter, there could be psychological room for a new, potential, terrorist. The “foreign fighters” listed by the Interior ministry are not many: 90, enlisted in either the ISIS or Al Nusra, 18 of which are dead. Only 14 have returned to Italy.

Notwithstanding, Islamic extremism can soon find new adepts among the disowned and marginalized migrants.

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