Italian ships on the scene and traffickers turn around and go home

by Giuseppe Terranova - 2017.08.02
Italian ships on the scene and traffickers turn around and go home
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For the first time in July, the number of immigrants arriving on Italian shores has decreased by half: going from 23,552 recorded in 2016 to 11,193. Which means a 52,4% decrease, thanks to the Libyan coast guard finally deciding to practice its profession, as a response to the pressing from the Italian government over the last 30 days: intercepting and turning back (to Tripoli) 13,000 immigrants. This is good news. Not only because these numbers mean that immigration, unlike rain, is able to be managed and contained. But, most importantly, because it allows those in favor of immigration to escape the political infighting over open door policies, or to the contrary, closed door policies. This about-face in migration flows indicates, in fact, that finally, there might be early signs that the Italian government knows what it is doing. At least in two areas.

The first, is its mission of launching Italian ships in the waters of the ex-Gheddafi territory, with the single objective of providing logistic and strategic technical support to the Lybian Coast Guard, who are trying to face the human traffickers at their ports of departure. The operation has many points in common with the one that was put into place during the Albanian immigration crisis in Italy in the ‘90s. It has some gray zones (e.g. will the immigrants intercepted and held by Italian military be brought to Italy or Libya?) but it sends clear signals to the traffickers that the party is over, seeing as until today, they have been able to do as they pleased, without anyone hassling them.

The second, the behavioral guidelines for the Ngo rescue missions that every day save thousands of immigrants that they then bring to Italian ports. A type of emergency handbook of 13 rules to follow that were presented yesterday to the Ministry of the Interior and which divided the volunteer missions led by the angels in the Mediterranean in half. On one side, Save the Children fully embraced each of the points outlined. On the other, the heads of Médecins sans Frontières flatly refused the initiative. Because they oppose the condition that obliges them to allow officials from the police force on board and also prohibits them from transferring immigrants saved in the middle of the ocean from one boat to another. A particular point that the smaller Ngo’s were particularly concerned with, because of the fact that, in an attempt to limit the number of their missions, they are often forced to transfer rescued immigrants to larger ships (while en route in open waters) who have more space and are more equipped to bring greater numbers of people back to shore.

If your are asking yourself how two of the most noted Ngo’s like Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières, can have diametrically opposed positions, the answer is simple. Even in the agorà of volunteers, just like in that of politics, there are parties who follow and defend different interests and values, some to the right, and others to the left. Clear and simple. For this reason, the Interior Ministry did well to stick to its guns when managing the rebellious Ngo’s, declaring that their “No” was a formal rejection of Italy’s official emergency procedures for saving and caring for immigrants at sea. Which can bring about “severe consequences”. Including the hypothesis, supported by Brussels, that their entry into Italian ports could be denied.

Let’s be clear – no victory has been declared yet. The code of conduct, like the naval missions themselves, does not mean that the problem of the immigration crisis is resolved in one fell swoop. Both, however, are testimony to a country that finally holds its weight and takes responsibility for the surveillance and managing of its maritime borders. This first step towards establishing some rules and instilling some type of order, might just help avoid what has occurred up until this point, which is that in the part of the sea that separates Sicily from Africa, those who prevail rule by cunningness and sheer might.

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