Italy’s minister suggests migrant centers on Libya’s southern borders

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TRIPOLI: Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister said on a visit to Libya on Monday he had proposed setting up migrant reception centers at Libya’s southern borders to help stanch a flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.
Matteo Salvini, whose far right League party has campaigned to bar migrants fleeing Africa and expel those already in Italy, and has been in a governing coalition since the start of June, did not say in which countries such centers could be located.
Libya has been the main departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe by sea since routes from Turkey were largely shut following a deal with the European Union in 2016.
Almost all arrive in Italy though crossings have fallen sharply last July as smuggling networks were disrupted under heavy Italian pressure and Libya’s EU-trained coastguard stepped up interceptions.
“Reception and identification centers should be set up (in or to) the south of Libya,” Salvini told reporters after meeting Libyan Interior Minister Abdulsalam Ashour and deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeg in the capital Tripoli.
Salvini said such centers would ease pressure on both Libya and Italy. He gave no details, but appears to envisage the centers as a way to process asylum requests outside the EU in order that those deemed not eligible can be quickly sent back to their home countries.
Salvini thanked the Libyan coastguard for the “excellent work” in rescuing and intercepting migrants and said the two countries were in “full agreement” over immigration.
However, Maiteeg, part of an internationally recognized government that has struggled to impose its authority on Libya from Tripoli, said that while it was ready to tackle migration, “we completely reject any migrant camps in Libya”.
“This is not allowed under Libyan law and regulations.”
It was unclear how viable it could be to set up migrant reception centers in the area mentioned by Salvini given general lawlessness in the Sahel desert region and its poorly demarcated borders, making it fertile ground for people smugglers.
Interceptions of migrant-laden boats by Libya’s coastguard have surged over the past week.
But the interceptions have been criticized by human rights activists because of the dire conditions facing migrants in Libya, where they say they often face physical abuse including torture and rape.