By Alessandra Bocchi,
Tunis, 16 February 2017:
The first batch of Libyan coastguards being trained aboard the Italian naval vessel San Giorgio have now finished their five-month course, according to Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti. He disclosed the news to a parliamentary committee in Rome. The training has been part of the EU’s naval Operation Sophia designed to stop illegal migration in the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe.
Some 78 Libyan coastguard cadets began training last October, aboard both the San Giorgio and the Dutch vessel Rotterdam.
The fact that the Italian vessel later had to dock in Libya was used last month by the interim, Beida-based government of Abdullah Al-Thinni to accuse the Italian navy of illegally entering Libya’s territorial waters
Back at the committee, Minetti explained that Italy also had a twofold plan to tackle illegal migration: first, the protection of the Libyan southern border where migrants first enter Libya and, second, the training and strengthening of Libyan coastal guards to try and prevent migrants setting off for Europe in the first place. Italy insists its role is limited to providing Libyan coastal guards with equipment and training.
“The Libyans say they will make the interventions and that we should help by providing the coast guards with guidance,” Minniti said, adding “Last Monday we had a meeting to work precisely on this issue.”
After a wave of criticism from Libyan politicians and NGOs over the Italy-Libya migrant deal under which migrants would be sent back to Libya for repatriation, Minniti pointed out that there was not an issue with Libya about repatriation. The migrants would not be sent back to Libya because they were not Libyans.
Meanwhile, the Italian-Libyan commission set up as a result of the deal is scheduled to meet again in March to further discuss how to implement repatriations on illegal migrants.