Italy will deploy two military ships to Libya in an effort to deter illegal migration and human smuggling into Europe, the Italian government announced Wednesday.
The move is Italy’s latest effort to counter the country’s migration surge. According to the International Organization for Migration, 94,802 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year, while 2,221 migrants have died attempting the treacherous Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy.
The Italian Parliament passed a bill on Wednesday that green-lighted Libya’s original request for help, sent in a letter from the Prime Minister of Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord on July 27.
According to an Italian Navy spokesperson, the two ships – a patrol vessel and a technical and logistical support unit – could be deployed to Libyan waters as early as next week.
Libya is a popular jumping-off point for migrants hoping to reach European shores. Many of them are fleeing war and persecution while others are seeking better economic opportunities. The North African country is a well-established base for a human trafficking operation that sees smugglers operating with more ease because of the country’s lack of effective central governance.
According to the Italian Parliament, the deployment is “supporting the Libyan security forces in their activities to monitor and contrast illegal migration and the smuggling of human beings.”
But some nongovernmental organizations are concerned the move will expose migrants to far more danger.
Amnesty International heavily criticized the initiative, saying that “deploying warships to police Libyan waters will expose refugees to horrific abuse,” in a statement released on Wednesday.
Gauri Van Gulik, Amnesty International deputy Europe director, said: “Italy, along with other EU member states, should be focusing on increasing its search and rescue operations. Instead it has chosen to shirk its responsibilities and endanger the very people it says it is trying to help, including by providing military cover and support to the Libyan coast guard, whose reckless and abusive conduct against refugees and migrants during interceptions has been repeatedly documented.”
A ‘code of conduct’
It’s the second move the Italian government has taken on migration in a week.
On Monday, Italy’s Parliament passed a “code of conduct” for NGOs operating search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
The measure requests that NGO rescue boats take armed police onto their vessels in an effort to crack down on human smugglers.
Three of the eight humanitarian groups agreed to its terms. Doctors Without Borders refused to sign the code over concerns it could increase deaths at sea.
Since the start of this year, 2,385 migrants have died on the central Mediterranean route, according to the International Organization for Migration; 114,287 migrants have reached European shores, of which 85% are Italian arrivals.