The central Mediterranean has become the main gateway to Europe for migrants from Africa and nations such as Syria. Photo: Prensa Latina

Rome.-In its efforts to stop human trafficking from Libya, the Italian government has focused its attention on forging alliances with different forces of the country, plunged into a state of chaos and ungovernability.

The crisis in this North African nation erupted in 2011, following the overthrow and assassination of Muammar Gaddafi, during the military operation led by France, Britain and the United States, with the support of ten countries, later joined by a further six, backed by a UN resolution.

One of the members of the first group was precisely Italy, under then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In the heat of the prevailing disorder, the human trafficking industry has prospered, offering a major source of income for the economy of several regions of Libya. The lucrative business often begins in Sub-Saharan Africa and ends on Italian coasts or at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

With the closure of the Balkan route and the European Union (EU) agreement with Turkey in April 2016, the central Mediterranean became the main gateway to Europe for migrants from Africa and nations such as Syria, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, plagued by war, conflict, famine and poverty.

According to data from the UN Refugee Agency, through August 4 of this year, a total of 114,865 migrants had arrived to Europe, 96,119 of which to Italy, 11,692 to Greece, 6,524 to Spain and 530 to Cyprus, while an estimated 2,398 died in the attempt.

On February 2, Italy and Libya signed a cooperation agreement, endorsed the following day by EU heads of state and government meeting in Malta. Despite the agreement, the flow of migrants increased notably in the first half of the year, before recording a drastic reduction a few days later.

The main objective of the agreement and the actions adopted by the EU summit was to support Libya and neighboring countries in the fight against trafficking in persons.

The plan included, among other aspects, training, provision of equipment and support to the Libyan coast guard and other agencies; additional measures to dismantle illegal trafficking in persons, and support – where possible – for the local development of communities in the North African nation, especially in coastal and border areas linked to migration.

Italy’s counterpart in the negotiations with Libya is the Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj. Despite being recognized by the UN, this force only controls a small portion of the country, which is governed in different areas by other powers such as the Tobruk parliament, and the Army of General Khalifa Haftar in the region of Cyrenaica.

In response to a request from al-Sarraj, the Italian Council of Ministers and parliament recently approved the participation of Italian naval units in Libyan waters in operations to support its Coast Guard, in the joint fight against human trafficking.

Speaking to the press following the meeting in Malta, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that what had been approved “is nothing more or less than what the Libyan government requested.”

Thus he responded to the confusion created by al-Sarraj, who after requesting the collaboration in a letter dated July 23, publicly denied it and went on to clarify through a Foreign Ministry statement that the request had not included the presence of naval vessels.

The agreement with al-Sarraj sparked fury from General Haftar, who on July 22 participated in a reconciliation meeting with his rival, convened by French President, Emmanuelle Macron, without the presence of Italy.

Haftar threatened military action against the Italian naval units that enter Libyan waters, while the parliament of Tobruk, which politically supports the General, refused to recognize the agreement.

In a similar vein, Fathi al-Mejbari, vice president of the Libyan Presidential Council headed by al-Sarraj, stated that the authorization for Italian naval units to enter Libyan waters “does not express the will of the entire Presidential Council, let alone of the government of (national) accord.”

Meanwhile, those leading the regions economically benefited by human trafficking represent further pieces of this complicated puzzle.