Aid groups urge Italy to scrap migrant return deal with Libya

Humanitarian groups including Save the Children and Amnesty International are urging Italy's new government to scrap a controversial EU-sponsored deal with Libya to stop migrant boat crossings to Europe.

Aid groups urge Italy to scrap migrant return deal with Libya
Protestors hold placards reading 'no to the violation of human rights, against migrants and refugees in Libya' during a demonstration on October 26th against the Italy-Libya migrant return deal. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Under the 2017 accord, Italy and the EU help fund, train and equip the Libyan coastguard, which then intercepts migrants in the Mediterranean and forcibly returns them to the strife-torn country.

“Europe, defender of human rights, should under no circumstances make deals with a country… where migrants are tortured, become victims of slavery or of sexual abuse,” Claudia Lodesani, head of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Italy, told a press conference in Rome.

Campaigners say nearly 100,000 people have been intercepted in this way over five years.

Many are believed to have ended up in Libyan detention centres, compared by Pope Francis to concentration camps.

Critics lament a lack of accountability, with no public information on who receives the money in Libya, while rescuers slam a “Wild West” situation with armed militias posing as the Libyan coastguard.

READ ALSO: Italy’s government moves to block migrant rescue ships as distress calls reported

The appeal by 40 organisations including Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty, calls for urgent action by Italy’s new hard-right government, which was sworn in at the weekend

“Migrants and asylum seekers held in detention centers remain subject to abhorrent conditions, and face serious abuses including torture and rape, as well as overcrowding. Further, their lives remain at risk due to the escalation of the ongoing conflict,” stated Amnesty International in its appeal for the deal to be scrapped.

If Rome does not scrap the agreement by November 2nd, it will be automatically renewed for another three years.

Protestors hold a sign reading ‘agreements with Libya, I do not agree’ during a demonstration in Rome on October 26th. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

In her inaugural speech to parliament, Italy’s new prime minister Giorgia Meloni said she wanted to “stop illegal departures and break up human trafficking,” adding that her government intends to propose an EU naval operation to block departures from North Africa.

The new interior minister on Wednesday signalled a return to the policy of blocking rescue ships, favoured by League leader Matteo Salvini, as he signed a directive seeking to ban two migrant rescue ships from entering Italian waters, as more vessels issued distress calls off the coast of Sicily.

It stated that “the prohibition of entry into territorial waters is being evaluated”.

Italy has long been on the migration frontline, taking in tens of thousands of people who attempt the world’s deadliest crossing yearly.

It had numerous agreements during the 2000s with Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi on curbing migratory flows.

READ ALSO: Immigration in Italy: What are the real numbers?

The partnership was suspended following the collapse of the Libyan government and the European Court of Human Rights’ 2012 condemnation of Italy for intercepting and forcibly returning people to Libya.

But wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya sparked a wave of refugees in 2015, with over 150,000 people crossing in boats to Italy, followed by over 180,000 people in 2016. Thousands more died trying.

In 2017, Italy’s centre-left prime minister Paolo Gentiloni signed a new deal with Fayez al-Serraj, head of the UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord, aimed at reducing arrivals.

From then onwards, rescue charities including the Alarm Phone hotline used by migrants in distress were “told by Italy to alert the Libyan coastguard instead”, Chiara Denaro from Alarm Phone said.

She said it was “not possible to consider the forcible return of people desperate to flee”.

The so-called coastguard “fire weapons, they perform dangerous manuevers that risk causing shipwrecks… We can describe the returns as captures, as pushbacks, but not as rescues,” she added.

On Wednesday, rescue organisation Sea Watch published video footage appearing to show the Libyan coastguard threatening to “shoot missiles” at their plane.

The EU has contributed 58 million euros to date to the accord with Libya.

Investigative Italian journalist Duccio Facchini on Monday revealed Italy had spent another 6.65 million euros on 14 new speedboats for the Libyan coastguard just a few months ago.

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Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Brazil’s former president may soon face legal charges after last week’s attempted coup. Here’s why he’s considering becoming an Italian citizen to escape extradition from the US.

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has figured heavily in international news lately after hundreds of his supporters stormed government buildings in the capital Brasilia on Sunday, January 8th, in what has now been widely recognised as a failed coup. 

And though there is currently no evidence that Bolsonaro directly ordered Sunday’s insurrection, Brazilian media reports suggest the former president may, in the words of Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, have to “answer for his crimes and be interrogated on the terrorist acts he always incited”.

It is precisely the prospect of legal prosecution that, in a turn of events very few would have been able to anticipate, might tie Bolsonaro’s fate to Italy.

Brazilian news media Istoè and O globo both recently reported that Bolsonaro, who has Italian origins, is currently planning on formally requesting Italian citizenship – a process which two of his five sons, Flavio and Eduardo, started back in 2020.

But why would becoming an Italian citizen allow Bolsonaro to evade prosecution in Brazil?

Bolsonaro is currently in Florida, USA, which he entered on December 30th, two days before his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was sworn in as the new Brazilian head of state. 

Aftermath of failed coup in Brasilia, Brazil

Hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, on Sunday, January 8th. Photo by Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

But his position in the US is shaky, to say the least. A single criminal charge – Bolsonaro is already under investigation in at least four pre-coup criminal probes – and sufficient evidence to show probable cause would be enough for the States to accept Brazil’s extradition request. 

Conversely, as an Italian citizen residing in Italy, Bolsonaro would be most likely shielded from extradition as the current agreements between Rome and Brasilia exclude extradition for crimes of political nature and the Italian Constitution (article 26) bans the “extradition of [an Italian] citizen unless international conventions command so”.

So, it seems Bolsonaro would effectively be able to evade prosecution by acquiring Italian citizenship. But should he ultimately choose to request citizenship, how likely is it that he would be successful?

While there’s no way to predict what the final outcome would be, he’d have good chances, at least in theory.

Italy is far more lenient than other countries when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry (also known as ‘right of blood’ or jure sanguinis).

In fact, there are no limits on how far back up the line of descent the applicant’s Italian ancestor is located as long as the Italian national in question was alive on or after March 17th 1861, when the Kingdom of Italy was officially born. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

Bolsonaro’s paternal great-grandfather, Vittorio Bolzonaro, moved to Brazil from Anguillara Veneta, Veneto in the late 1880s or early 1890s at the very latest.

Other than that, the issue of Italian citizenship is dependent on one remaining condition, namely that no Italian national along the line of descent formally renounced their Italian citizenship prior to the birth of their descendant. 

Italy's foreign minister Antonio Tajani

Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani has recently confirmed that no request for Italian citizenship has been made yet by Bolsonaro. Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP

There’s no way to know whether this requirement is actually met in Bolsonaro’s case, though, if it were, his path to acquiring Italian citizenship would be pretty clear. 

As with all things Italian, the process of getting an Italian citizenship application approved is usually very lengthy (taking over three years in most cases). However, there is a ‘fast-track’ option which, while requiring the applicant to relocate to Italy and become a legal resident, cuts overall processing times to around one year. 

So, should Bolsonaro ultimately go for the fast-track route – and provided that he applied immediately and all his documents (including birth, death and marriage certificates of all his relevant ancestors) were in order – the earliest he could become an Italian citizen would be at some point in 2024. 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

This is of course all purely hypothetical at present, especially as Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani confirmed on Wednesday that Bolsonaro hasn’t (yet) submitted a request for Italian citizenship. 

But the mere prospect of Brazil’s former president applying for citizenship has caused a stir within the Italian political landscape – several left-wing forces have already asked that the request be immediately rejected should it ever come through.

Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro in Italy

Bolsonaro already has honorary Italian citizenship, which was granted by the small town of Anguillara Veneta in 2021. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Some Italian social media users also highlighted the fact that it’s relatively difficult for children born in Italy to foreign parents to obtain Italian citizenship.

“Before (possibly) giving Italian citizenship to the Bolsonaro family you must give it to all children born and living in Italy who wish to be Italian citizens,” said one.

The former president already has honorary Italian citizenship, granted by Anguillara Veneta, the small town Bolsonaro’s great-grandfather originally emigrated from. However, the town’s mayor is now under increasing pressure to revoke it.

Making Bolsonaro an honorary citizen was a “grave error then” but failing to revoke the award after Sunday’s events would be nothing short of “incomprehensible”, stated Veneto regional councillors Vanessa Camani and Andrea Zanoni, both with the Democratic Party.

As for the Italian government, PM Giorgia Meloni took to Twitter on Sunday to condemn the insurrection in Brasilia. However, neither she nor any other member of her cabinet have so far taken a stance on Bolsonaro’s contentious citizenship issue.

Also, at the time of writing, no member of the League, which largely supported Bolsonaro during his tenure as president and praised him as the “pride of Veneto” in October 2018, has spoken out on the topic.

Whether it’s just a bad bout of forgetfulness or deliberate reticence, the silence is deafening.