Genoa - EU international cooperation funding destined for development projects in Africa was used to refurbish patrol boats for Libya’s coast guard, and handed over to Libyan militia units who practice torture and extrajudicial killings, in violation of Libyan and international standards. While a chilling CNN video that showed migrants being auctioned off as slaves has opened a moral debate (only yesterday, the UN High Commissioner described the agreement signed by Italy and the EU with Libya as “inhuman”), now the Italian government will have to respond also to allegations that it acted illegitimately by providing funding to authorities in Tripoli. The ASGI, an Italian association of immigration lawyers, has lodged a complaint with Lazio’s Regional Court, in which it contests a 2.5 million euro payment by Italy’s Interior Ministry for the refurbishment of four patrol boats operated by Libya’s coast guard for coastal border control.
“There are several reasons why that money cannot be used for such activities,” said Giulia Crescini, one of the lawyers who filed the complaint, after the association got a tip-off from a civilian who had access to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. First objection, the funds were taken out of the EU-Africa trust fund, which is destined for other purposes. Secondly, the patrol boats were entrusted to individuals involved in a civil war, “who are often responsible for illegal actions and serious violations of the fundamental rights of migrants”. Thirdly, as this consists of military equipment, Italy’s action contravenes a 2016 EU regulation that restricts the export of military goods that can be used for purposes of combat. Fourthly, while the purpose indicated for the allocation of the funding is border control, this would violate the rights of refugees by restricting their ability to escape Libya’s hellish conditions (Italy has already been condemned of this in the past), and would thus violate the prohibition over rejecting migrants, with Libya enforcing such a rejection on behalf of Italy. Finally, the patrol boats in question have also used by Libyan authorities to attack international observers.
Only a few days ago, a ship belonging to Sea-Watch, a German non-governmental organization, was targeted by a patrol boat from Libya’s coast guard while in international waters (witnesses identified the boat as one of the vessels that the Italian Guardia di Finanza handed over to Libya). The coast guard boat not only prevented a rescue operation that had been ordered by the Coast Guard Operational Centre in Rome, and didn’t respond to requests by the Italian Navy and the NGO ship, but in fact attacked rescuers by throwing objects at them. As the incident unfolded, migrants were either hauled aboard the Libyan boat and subjected to beatings, in front of Italian and German nationals, or were not rescued. In the end, that disastrous rescue episode left 50 migrants unaccounted for, with five bodies recovered, including that of a two-year-old boy. “Do we really want to finance these people?” asked Andrea Maestri, deputy of the Possible party, who just yesterday, in parliamentary session, filed a query drawn up by Pippo Civati. The document requests Italy’s Interior Minister that the EU-Libya agreement signed in February, but not ratified by the Italian Parliament, be reviewed in light of recent episodes.