“We have put an end to 40 years of misunderstandings”. This is how Silvio Berlusconi, then Prime Minister, greeted the signing of the Partnership, Friendship and Cooperation Treaty between Italy and Libya, in August 2008. With the pretext of healing colonial wounds, the agreement stipulated Italian investments in exchange for more oil and fewer crossings by sea, thus transforming Rome into Tripoli’s spokesperson in the European Union.
Only a tiny part of the 200 million euros a year promised by Italy materialized. Arrivals dropped and Libyan detention centers began to fill up, but everything stopped in 2011, with protests, the killing of Gaddafi, and the start of a long and painful armed conflict.
Only to restart again 2016, with the birth of the European Union Emergency Trust Fund and of a Brussels-Rome-Tripoli axis to stop migration. Libya was the first beneficiary of the fund, with 13 projects, worth 309 million euros, all centered on ‘migration management’. A part of these funds overlapped with the 210 million managed and allocated by Italy, as in the case of the “Support to integrated border management in Libya” project, managed by the Italian Ministry of the Interior, on European funds.
Projects such as this one, subcontracted to Italian and local NGOs, at the center of a series of document access requests and a complaint by the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI). For ASGI, as well as for UNHCR and Ministry of Foreign Affairs sources we consulted, these funds help to keep a detention system riddled with abuse alive, and to legitimize the militias involved in the management of various centers.
But there is much more: off the coast of Libya, in international waters, operates EunavforMed, a European operation launched in 2016 under Italian command, renewed in 2020 and flanked by our own naval operation “Safe Sea” and by Frontex missions. The official goal is to stop traffickers. According to an investigation published in The Guardian, however, part of these assets signal to Libyan sailors the position of boats carrying people on board, thus actively participating in the interceptions.
As Libya moves closer to elections in December 2021, the Tripoli authorities asked Italy to finance two maxi detention centers, far from the coast, promising more “efficient” management. This is linked to the program to relaunch Italian investments for border control sanctioned by the 2008 agreement, at the center of which is Leonardo Spa, the Italian security giant.
A dossier to follow, as they say.