Italy says NATO three months from Libya naval mission

Migrants sit in a rescue boat during a rescue operation by Italian Navy vessels off the coast of Sicily in this April 11, 2016 (Reuters)

NATO is three months from launching a naval mission off Libya under a controversial plan to close the Western Mediterranean migrant route to Europe and begin mass repatriations, Italy said Monday.

The advanced state of preparations was revealed by Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti as leaders of the US, Britain, France, Germany and Italy prepared to meet in Hanover, Germany for talks expected to touch on the migrant crisis and instability and Islamist infiltration into Libya.

Modelled on an existing NATO operation in waters between Turkey and Greece, the Libya mission is set to be approved by alliance leaders at a Warsaw summit on July 7, Pinotti said in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa.

The plan forms part of a broader Italian strategy to stop migrants using Libya as a launchpad for reaching Europe by flying those with no claim to asylum back to their home countries, which will be paid to set up reception centres to reintegrate them.

The plans have been slammed by rights groups and the EU has also come under fire from Pope Francis for what he sees as its arbitrary distinction between asylum seekers and economic migrants.

More than 350,000 migrants from all over the world have reached Italy on boats from Libya since the start of 2014.

Aid organisations say over half the arrivals have a clear right to refuge in Europe from persecution or conflict and many more have asylum claims worthy of proper consideration.

The boat people arriving this year have however been overwhelmingly from sub-Saharan Africa – a region the European Union considers generally safe for people to be returned to.

“At the NATO level we have asked for Operation Active Endeavour to be recalibrated from an anti-terrorist operation in the Eastern Mediterranean to one which oversees the Libyan coast,” Pinotti said, adding that the idea had been positively received.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48