As Italy Reopens its Ports Human Trafficking and Security Fears Return

Published December 8th, 2019 - 07:58 GMT
A Libyan coast guard watches over a boat of rescued migrants on  June 27, 2017 /AFP
A Libyan coast guard watches over a boat of rescued migrants on June 27, 2017 /AFP

Italy’s government is set to introduce new measures to loosen restrictions on NGO ships disembarking migrants without a vetting procedure in the country.

Italy’s ports were formerly closed by the head of the League party and ex-Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, a hardliner on immigration.

However, Salvini was ousted this summer after attempting to call a snap election, and his party was replaced by the centre-left Democratic Party, which is more favourable to NGOs transporting migrants in the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. 


Luciana Lamorgese, the new Interior Minister, has announced the loosening of restrictions to Salvini’s landmark security decree, which had introduced harsh penalties against NGO ships and those facilitating illegal immigration. The new modifications will include lowering sanctions for the ships carrying migrants in the Mediterranean as well as lowering penalties for obstructing an officer in the line of duty.

The new modifications will include lowering sanctions for the ships carrying migrants in the Mediterranean as well as lowering penalties for obstructing an officer in the line of duty.

The latter measure was especially important given how Carola Rackete, the captain of an NGO ship, forced migrants to disembark in an Italian port last summer by colliding with an Italian navy ship. The move put the lives of Italian authorities onboard at risk. 

Under its new leadership, Italy has now has decided to loosen restrictions on the NGO ships that disregard its laws and security. The new Italian government offered the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking migrant rescue vessel run by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee to dock in Lampedusa, with 82 migrants who were transported from the coast of Libya to enter Europe. While the migrants were brought to safety, the underlying issues which brought them there in the first risk worsening.

Italy’s new interior minister also added that a “humanitarian corridor” for migrants wanting to reach Europe was needed through the modification of the memorandum with Libya signed in 2017, which was intended to decrease migratory flows to Europe from the already war-torn country of Libya.  

The open-border policy approach to the migrant and refugee crisis in 2015 brought enormous problems to Europe

The move however, would cause a resurgence in migrants wanting to reach Europe. The open-border policy approach to the migrant and refugee crisis in 2015 brought enormous problems to Europe, with the rise of security threats, issues with integrating the newly arrived population, and a feeling of neglect by the local population. What is often overlooked, furthermore, is how these policies have poorly affected migrants and their countries of origin themselves.

The open-border policy approach to the migrant and refugee crisis in 2015 brought enormous problems to Europe, with the rise of security threats, issues with integrating the newly arrived population, and a feeling of neglect by the local population.

By giving NGO ships that operate in the Mediterranean the freedom to disembark in Italian ports, migrants coming from Africa will once again be told that there is a safe way to reach Europe. The more migrants attempt the journey, the more will be led into the hands of human traffickers.

In turn, the migrants will be at increased risk of dying when they cross the Mediterranean. In other words, NGOs act as a pull-factor. This was also documented by the European coastal agency, Frontex, during the peak of the crisis, where it said:

“All parties involved in the Search and Rescue Operations unintentionally help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost, strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success. Migrants and refugees, encouraged by stories of those who made it in the past – attempt the dangerous crossing since they are aware of and rely on humanitarian assistance to reach the EU.”

Even according to UN statistics from the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the number of deaths in the Mediterranean has gone from 5,143 since its peak in 2016 when Italy’s ports were open, to 1,235 in 2019 when Italy’s ports were closed.

the number of deaths in the Mediterranean has gone from 5,143 since its peak in 2016 when Italy’s ports were open, to 1,235 in 2019 when Italy’s ports were closed

That’s more than four times fewer deaths. In addition, the journeys migrants undergo are often expensive, and besides fueling the human trafficking business, they take money and human capital away from African countries, where the majority of migrants depart in hope for a better life. According to one story reported by the IOM, a UN organization, the family of a girl who was promised to reach Europe paid 35,000 euros to traffickers. 

According to one story reported by the IOM, a UN organization, the family of a girl who was promised to reach Europe paid 35,000 euros to traffickers. 

As Italy reopens its ports, these tragic stories risk repeating themselves once again as human traffickers will be given the green light to continue their operations where migrants are abused, extorted and defrauded into believing a future awaits them in Europe.

At the same time, Europe would be facing the same crisis which has gravely threatened its national security and led to wide popular discontent.  

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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