Simone Somekh | AP
ROME – Tuesday, Italian ministers diverted responsibility for the return of 108 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to Libya after humanitarian groups exposed the specter of violations of international law.
Both Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli insisted that the rescue operation of the supply vessel Asso Ventotto be coordinated under Italian direction by the Libyan Coast Guard without the participation of its Italian counterpart.
Their statements came after the UN refugee agency and Amnesty International condemned the decision to bring the migrants to Libya. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy tweeted that Libya is not a safe haven, making such a transfer a violation of international law. Amnesty Italia said, "It's not just a violation of asylum law, but an inhuman act against those 108 people."
Nicola Fratoianni, an Italian lawmaker aboard a Spanish NGO rescue vessel, wrote on Facebook that they had evidence that the Asso Ventotto brought the migrants to Libya, calling it "a very serious precedent" if the Italian Coast Guard had ordered it.
The new Italian anti-migration government has let emergency ships pass by Humanitarian groups have brought rescued migrants to the country's ports since the seizure of power in May. In addition, the Libyan Coast Guard will be equipped with 12 additional patrol boats to prevent smugglers from reaching international waters.
The Italian government insists that the step is necessary to stop human trafficking. However, opposition MP Laura Boldrini, the former lower house spokeswoman, said that "working with Tripoli does not provide a single human rights guarantee".
In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud has postponed rescue questions. but said that Libya does not meet the necessary conditions to be considered a safe haven, a position "consistently maintained" by the Commission.
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