Italy organized a first airlift of refugees from Libyan detention centers to Rome after coming under international criticism for helping the Libyan coast guard block migrants from leaving by boat.
The airlift organized by the Italian government follows the “humanitarian corridors” initiated by the Sant’Egidio Community and other Christian churches that have already brought about 1,000 people to Italy, most from refugee camps in Lebanon.
The U.N. refugee agency’s Libya representative, Roberto Mignone, tweeted that he was travelling with 162 “vulnerable” refugees. Italy said the women, children and elderly people were all entitled to international protection. It did not say what countries they came from.
The growing presence of ISIS in Libya could force tens of thousands of migrants to flee, especially Christians from Eritrea and West Africa.
Migrants are herded into halfway houses where they wait for days or even weeks, before the smugglers take them to the boats. Once you pay, you can’t change your mind – even if you see that the vessel is unseaworthy and dangerous. The smugglers use guns and sticks to force people on board.
Italy’s migrant reception centers are at breaking point, with most of them full to capacity. Some facilities now accommodate twice as many people as they were designed for.
Immigrants being rescued by the Italian Navy near Lampedusa last year (AFP)
Italy and the EU have come under criticism from human rights groups for helping the Libyan coast guard more effectively patrol its coasts to prevent smugglers from operating. The groups say the policy has condemned refugees to torture, abuse and other inhuman treatment at the hands of the human trafficking gangs who control lawless Libya’s detention centers.
In addition to the Italian airlift, African nations have begun repatriating their citizens from Libya.
The United Nations has vowed to close the government-controlled detention centers in Libya to prevent the migrants from being trafficked and enslaved.
Stars & Stripes / AA Magnum Analyst Blog News 2017.