MILAN – Italy can’t build a wall, nor does it want to, but the debate over how to slow the flows of refugees and migrants here is reaching a fever pitch.
The problems of where to house them, and how to employ them, have not been solved. About 614,000 have arrived in Italy from North Africa since 2014. Italy accuses the rest of Europe of not helping to spread the burden.
One solution, agreed between Italy and the UN-backed Libyan government, is to send Italian ships to keep the traffickers’ boats from setting out toward Italy in the first place. This would potentially discourage people traveling to Libya from various African countries and devastate the traffickers. Those journeys are fraught with violence and risk. And that is before the risky sail from Libya.
But given that the situation in Libya is fragile, this plan’s future may be tenuous, even dangerous. Libya has two competing governments now, and the one that is not UN-backed doesn’t want Italian ships in its waters—it has even accused beleaguered Italy of being the exporter of trouble.
Abdullah Bilhaq, spokesman for the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk, the alternate government, said last week: “The Libyan House of Representatives warns against the Italian state’s attempt to export illegal migration from its territory to Libyan territory by returning tens of thousands of illegal immigrants to Libyan territory.”
One top general with the opposing Tobruk government in Libya has hinted the Italian ships off its waters could provoke an attack by Libyan forces.