Italy Estimates 680,000 Migrants to Cross from Libya


On Sunday, Italian lawmaker, Tommaso Foti claimed that “nearly 700,000 migrants are in Libya awaiting an opportunity to set out by sea toward Italy.”

In televised statements, the parliamentary whip from Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party said that “the Italian Secret Service estimated that 680,000 migrants were in Libya, many of them in detention camps. They are eager to sail across the central Mediterranean sea in smugglers’ boats,” according to The Associated Press (AP).

However, a Spokesperson for the UN migration agency (IOM) called the estimate “not credible,” noting that “not all migrants in Libya want to go to Europe.”

Meanwhile, Italy’s Coast Guard reported on Sunday that 17 migrants were rescued, and 30 remained missing off the coast of Libya after their boat capsized.

Notably, the death toll from a 26 February shipwreck off Italy’s coast has increased to 79.

Meloni is hoping a European Union meeting later this month yields concrete solidarity from fellow leaders, in managing the large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers. These come from countries on the Mediterranean’s rim, including Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, and Italy.

“Europe can’t look the other way,” Foti said.

From the start of this year through 10 March, some 17,600 arrived, including a few thousand who disembarked at Italian ports in the last several days. That’s about triple the number for the same period in each of the two previous years, although the COVID-19 pandemic might have led to fewer voyages.

Meloni’s government has rebuffed criticism that the Coast Guard should have been sent out to rescue the boat’s passengers, when the vessel was spotted farther off the coast.

For years, Italy has tried, with limited success to induce Libya to stop people smugglers using unseaworthy fishing boats and rubber dinghies. Italian governments have consistently trained and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard.

But the traffickers behind the smuggling rings continue to operate, amid Libya’s feuding political and militant factions.

The IOM and humanitarian groups say passengers whose vessels are turned back by the Libyan Coast Guard often are returned to detention camps. They are then at risk of abuse, including torture until their families raise enough money for the migrants to set out again by the sea.

Meloni’s government has made it harder for humanitarian organizations to operate rescue boats. This includes adopting rules that force the vessels to disembark migrants in northern Italian ports, delaying their return to sea.

However, many migrants actually set out from Libya on smugglers’ boats, it “is a worrisome humanitarian flow because people die at sea,″⁣ said IOM Spokesperson, Di Giacomo.

It estimates that some 300 people have died this year, or remain missing and presumed dead, after attempting to cross the perilous central Mediterranean route.