A critical overview of how Italian international cooperation funds are spent.
The Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI) today published a report on activities implemented by some Italian NGOs in detention centres for foreigners in Libya.
The projects, some of which are still in progress, were funded with 6 million euros by the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD).
Since the first call for proposals was issued in November 2017, the initiative has caused a great stir in public opinion, both because the detention system for migrants in Libya is characterized by very serious and systematic abuses (“too broken to be fixed”, in the words of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights) and because of the proximity to the Italy-Libya agreements of February 2017. In fact, the Libyan detention centres, especially those located around Tripoli, which are the recipients of most of the project funds, are also used to host migrants intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard, to which Italy has provided and still provides decisive economic, political and operational support.
The report therefore questions the legal consequences of the interventions carried out with taxpayers’ money in Libyan detention centres.
First of all, the report questions the very logic of the action, showing that the inhuman conditions in the centres, which the calls for proposal aim in part to improve, largely depend on precise choices by the government in Tripoli (extremely repressive policies of illegal immigration, lack of controls, dilapidated buildings, lack of public spending for detainees’ needs, etc.). The calls for proposals do not make the disbursement of the services conditional on any commitment by the Libyan government to remedy these issues, thus making the Italian intervention ineffective and unsustainable over time.
Secondly, the report notes that in the centres near Tripoli Italian NGOs are carrying out structural work, which replaces at least in part the Libyan Government’s ordinary responsibilities over the centres’ management. In addition, some activities benefit not the prisoners but the detention facility, preserving its structural soundness and its capacity to host new prisoners in the future.
Thirdly, some interventions are aimed at maintaining the efficiency of physical barriers such as gates and fences, thus possibly contributing to keeping prisoners available to persons notoriously involved in very serious violations of fundamental rights.
Finally, the report questions the actual destination of the goods and services provided. The absence of Italian personnel on site, coupled with the fact that the centres are largely run by militias, undoubtedly hinder effective control over the destination of goods purchased with public money. The grossly approximate reporting by NGOs of expenses incurred seems to corroborate the absence of effective control over what is actually carried out by Libyan implementing partners on the ground. Thus, it cannot be excluded that at least part of the funds has benefited the managers of the centres, i.e. those militias that are sometimes also actors in the armed conflict on Libyan territory as well as perpetrators of the already mentioned torture of prisoners.
The report concludes that the Italian NGOs projects in Libyan detention centres are directly functional to the strategy of curbing flows of irregular migrants through their interception, transfer to Libya, detention and subsequent removal from Libyan territory through repatriation to the country of origin or resettlement in third countries. Therefore, the projects may have provided a contribution to the functioning of the system of Libyan detention centres, without even attempting to eliminate at the root and in a sustainable way the structural deficiencies that make detention within them irreparably inhuman.
The report, while posing some crucial questions, does not provide an exhaustive picture, as the AICS has always denied access to some key documents to fully understand the situation, such as the actual projects.
ASGI therefore invites all those interested to participate in a public debate, also open to representatives of the NGOs involved and the AICS, which will take place on 27 July at 3 p.m. live on ASGI’s Youtube channel