THE JOURNEY OF AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT (PART 2)
The hellish journey of illegal immigrants has developed for years on the basis of the parameters and circumstances described in the previous article (Journey of an illegal immigrant part 1). Immigrants are exploited, arrested, freed, arrested again, robbed, expelled and so on. To these vexations we must add the spite for the poor and a fervent racism that easily turns repression into slavery, with women becoming mere objects. The subjects that enact this heinous practice are the following: the police, the army (the border was previously under the responsibility of the armed forces, while the contiguous 15/20 km were under a mixed army/police jurisdiction. The rest of the territory was controlled by the police alone), prison guards, coast guard and security services.
The violation of human rights has never embarrassed Khaddafi's Libya, nor has the government ever tried to change its ways. There was sometimes a bit of uneasiness for the tainted international image of the regime. Nobody - at the international level - has ever wanted to acknowledge or raise the issue. The only grounds for confrontation with Khadafi's Libya has been on market or oil issues.
It was a de facto situation of collusion that has prevented our country (Italy) from exercising - at least after the beginning of the repatriations - any forms of pressure on the Libyan authorities so that the suffering of the repatriated be alleviated. Italy was fully conscious of this state of affairs (the Interior ministry had/has full-time representatives in Tripoli) but was busier trying to play down the situation rather than emphasizing it. There was a guilty confusion between the terms "illegal immigrant" and "refugee" (in part because Khadafi's Libya has never accepted the term "refugee" - and has never officially recognized the UNHCR - because the term "political" was used in conjunction with the term "refugee").
It must be noted that such an enormous amount of illegal immigrants in its territory has sometimes caused problems of security for Tripoli's authorities. So long as the illegal immigrants would transit through Libya to board boats bound for Italy, the demographic problem had a minor incidence. Yet with the policy of repatriations there was a huge amassment of illegal immigrants that could not leave the country anymore.
Khadafi's regime has faced this problem by hardening its line of repression, trying to push the immigrants into leaving the country and convincing others into not coming.
Yet now the situation has changed.
The last act of this drama took place during the recent civil war, when many of these african immigrants were taken for mercenaries hired by the regime and persecuted or killed. Right now in Libya the number of illegal immigrants has greatly decreased.
It is not clear whether in the new Libya the traffic of illegal immigrants transiting towards Europe will still take place as it did. It will depend on the newly installed authorities of that country.
THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS
Recently the Italian interior minister of the Italian government has travelled to tripoli and - without excessive media coverage - has signed new accords regarding illegal immigration. Such agreements have been kept secret to the general public.
The interior ministry officially stated that the accords were regarding the formation of Libyan police forces, the patrolling of the coasts, the reinforcement of the surveillance on Libyan borders and the voluntary repatriation of the immigrants to their countries of origin. The insistent requests by Amnesty International to learn the details of the accords were all but ignored.
Either way - and this is the most significant and worrisome side of it all - there is a substantial continuity in the illegal immigration policy of the past Italian governments: the phenomenon is fought by proxy. The government focuses on the means to contrast immigration but does not take into consideration those humane aspects that are still lacking even in the new Libyan leadership.
As we've ascertained (although it was not officially stated), Italy has offered to use once more the 5 coast guard vessels that had been offered to Libya in Berlusconi's time. For the sixth vessel, that has been sunk during bombing by international forces, Italy will be evaluating the possibility of recovering or substituting the vessel with a new one. Thus everything points to a continuity with the past based on joint patrolling and on the repatriation of the illegal immigrants.
Also, the Italian interior ministry will soon be sending three functionaries in the ports of Tripoli, Misurata and Benghazi.
The suggestion that the immigrants will be granted "voluntary" repatriation means that the IOM (International Organization for Migrations) will be enacting an old initiative (that has reaped modest results in the past while costing abundant amounts of money to the Italian interior ministry) which aims at convincing the immigrants to return home in exchange for a modest financial offer (we speak of modest results in the light of the fact that it wasn't the money that convinced the immigrants to leave Libya as much as the abuses of the Libyan authorities). It is evident that Italy intends to continue in the same path, in part because that's what the Libyan want (the Libyan authorities do not want to keep the immigrants in their country after they have been expelled from Italy) and in part because Italy need absolution on moral grounds (i.e. Italy does expel illegal immigrants, but also gives them a little cash for the return trip). Everything that happens to the illegal immigrant between the expulsion and the internment will once again be hidden under a veil of silence. The IOM will once again keep silent since it receives ample financing from an Italian institutional body that has no interest in letting these aspects emerge.
The so-called formation of police forces was a recurrent initiative with the previous Italian government as well and it served the purpose of winning the favor of their Libyan counterpart.
On a similar note, the patrolling of Libyan borders is an old cliche' of the Italian-Libyan relationship. Khadafi asked for a radar system to monitor Libya's southern border with the excuse of wanting to intercept illegal immigration (obviously radars are not able to monitor the movements of immigrants but the Italians were willing to disregard such an aspect in order to gain the dictators favors). Also, the Italian government was keen to assign a rich contract to a company owned by Finmeccanica. There were - on the Italian side - 350 million euros to spend for such an operation, part of which would be financed by the EU.
Yet if the rules of the game haven't changed, if the accords are still the same, if the Italian government is still striving to enact the same immigration policy, have there been changes on the Libyan front?
The answer is easily discernible from the continuous reports of human rights violations by the new Libyan leadership. In the change from Khadafi's regime and the present leadership, this aspect has remained unchanged. And in such circumstances, so long as Libya remains a territory of transit for illegal immigrants traveling to Italy and Europe, the predestined victim of all this will still be the poor and defenseless illegal immigrant.