28 July 2017

Migrant crisis: Italy backs force to police Libya shore

A rescuer helps a child as migrants arrive at the port of Porto Empedocles, Agrigento province, in Sicily island, south Italy, 13 July 2017Image copyright

Image caption

A rescuer helps a child as migrants arrive in Porto Empedocles, Sicily

Italy’s cabinet has backed sending a mission to Libya to try to stem the influx of migrants.

The mission would help Libya “reinforce their capacity to control their borders and national territory”, said Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

It would reportedly comprise ships, planes and 700 personnel.

Mr Gentiloni claimed it had been requested by Libya, but the UN-backed government there vigorously denied making any such request.

In an earlier statement, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj said his administration had agreed to receive only training and arms from Italy, but said: “Libya’s national sovereignty is a red line that nobody must cross.”

Mr Sarraj had held a face-to-face meeting with Mr Gentiloni in Italy on Wednesday.

More than 88,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year, and more than a quarter of them arrived in June alone.

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The Italian mission would reportedly be sent to Libya aboard a frigate commanded by an admiral.

The mission would contribute, Mr Gentiloni told the cabinet meeting, to Libya’s “path of stabilisation… and Italy feels it a duty to participate”.

The cabinet had “approved what the [Libyan] government requested, no more, no less,” he said.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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