Italy’s success in Libya might make Rome more enemies than friends

By on September 1, 2017

As the migrants’ flows from Libya are dramatically decreasing, European governments are acknowledging the role played by Italy in curbing the phenomenon thanks to its deep knowledge of the North Africa country.

Rome’s success was publicly lauded during the recent migration-focused summit in Paris, attended by leaders from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, as well as Chad, Libya and Sudan. French president Macron praised the Italian efforts to work with Libya’s coast guard, stating that “what has been done by Italy and Libya is a perfect example of what we are aiming for” (New York Times, August 28th).

After realising that its requests for a European burden sharing on the migration crisis were mostly falling on deaf ears, Rome adopted a more assertive, balanced and innovative two-track policy, based on its extensive knowledge of Libya and its internal dynamics. On one hand, Rome began imposing stricter controls on those NGOs acting as “shuttles” (rescuing migrants from the smugglers’ boats off the Libyan coasts and bringing them to the Italian shore), by linking their operations to their acceptance of a government-drafted code of conduct.

On the other, Italy is actively engaging local Libyan actors, with a focus on the country’s Coast Guard and on the mayors of several towns in Fezzan, the southern region more affected by the migration flows from Niger, Chad, Sudan and West Africa (Politico, August 10th).

The effectiveness of Italy’s new approach to the issue is also acknowledged by Libyan media, who are looking at those Italy-inspired initiatives aiming at strengthening the country’s security skills and the management of the migration flows under a more favourable light. The recent positive story-telling on the security meetings between Italian and Libyan officials (Al-Wasat, August 30th; Libya Observer, August 27th), on the capacity-building for the Libyan Navy (Al-Wasat, April 21st) and on the humanitarian aid sent by Italy to the hospital in Sabratha (Libya Observer, August 17th) and the migration centre in the southern town of Zuwara (Al-Wasat, August 23rd) speaks volumes on Libya’s acknowledgement of the effectiveness of the Italian “recipe” for the country’s stabilisation and the handling of the migration flows. Often seen as the underdog by other stakeholders in Libya, Italy is finally proving to be a strategic player in that arena: a success that might attract further enmity towards Rome, especially from its European partners.

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