The Italian and Libyan governments have signed an agreement designed to stop migrant boats setting off from the North African country’s shoreline.
As part of the deal, Italy will provide funding, training and equipment to the UN-backed Libyan administration to help it tackle traffickers using Libyan waters to launch vessels loaded with desperate EU-bound migrants.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Libyan leader Fayez al-Serraj agreed on the terms of the deal during a meeting in Rome just hours before an EU leaders summit was due to begin in Malta.
Gentiloni said the agreement was only a small part of a much wider plan required to tackle the migrant crisis that would need significant funding from the European Union.
“If we want to give real strength and legs to managing migration flows, then there needs to be an economic commitment by the whole of the EU,” he said.
Ahead of the Malta summit, President of the European Council Donald Tusk said breaking up people smuggling gangs and cutting off the sea routes they use “is the only way to stop people dying in the desert and at sea and this is also the only way to gain control over migration in Europe”.
“After my talks with Italian Prime Minister Gentiloni yesterday in Rome and this morning with Libyan Prime Minister al-Sarraj on their bilateral cooperation, I can say that this goal is within our reach,” Tusk said after Italy and Libya agreed the deal.
Heavily-armed gangs of people smugglers have taken effective control of multiple migrant detention centres on the coast of Libya, using the sites as bases from which to organise hazardous crossings of overloaded migrant boats to Italy.
On Sunday, German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that traffickers based in Libya are subjecting migrants to rape and torture. Citing German diplomats posted in Africa, the paper claims people smugglers are publically executing migrants who are unable to pay their fees.
The political chaos that followed the removal by the West of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has allowed criminal gangs and smugglers to operate in Libya with near impunity.
Separately, Italian daily La Stampa on Monday told readers that intelligence chiefs believe Islamist terror organisations such as Daesh are increasingly turning to the European people smuggling trade as revenue from other sources dries up.
Alessandro Pansa, Director General of the Department of Information Security for the Italian Council of Ministers, told the paper: “ISIS has recently significantly retreated. Its sources of revenue, primarily smuggling oil products and antiquities, are at the edge of drying out.
“We think that terrorists are resorting to human trafficking as a new source of revenue.”
Pansa said intelligence suggests jihadi groups including Daesh are teaming up with established people smuggling gangs as they seek to diversify their income.