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IMMIGRATION

EU human rights chief wants clarity on Italy-Libya migrant pact

The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, has asked Italy to shed more light on a pact made with war-torn Libya to stem the flow of boat migrants crossing to Italy.

EU human rights chief wants clarity on Italy-Libya migrant pact
The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, wants more clarity on the Italy-Libya migrant deal. Photo: Adem Altan/AFP

Muiznieks wrote to Interior Minister Marco Minniti seeking clarification amid reports of torture endured by migrants trapped in Libya.

“In light of these reports on the human rights situation for migrants in Libya, giving them to the Libyan authorities or other groups exposes them to a real risk of torture or inhumane and degrading treatment,” Muiznieks wrote, according to reports in the Italian press.

“I would be grateful of you could clarify what kind of support operations your government expects to provide to the Libyan authorities in Libyan territorial waters and what safeguards Italy has put in place to ensure that people intercepted or rescued by Italian vessels in Libyan territorial waters do not subsequently face a situation contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention (on Human Rights)”.

In August, Libya barred foreign search and rescue ships from a stretch of water off its coast, with Italy also reining in the operations by making the NGOs sign up to a code of conduct.

NGOs, who between them have rescued thousands of boat migrants attempting the crossing, were accused of actively encouraging people smuggling.

Under a deal reached in July, Italy provides technical and operational support to Libya’s coastguard to boost its capacity to intercept boats and return migrants to Libya.

NGOs have argued that migrants endure brutal conditions in Libya, with many preferring to risk dying at sea rather than stay there. Italy said the move was intended to combat trafficking while reducing the number of deaths in the Mediterranean.

While the pact has stemmed the flow of migrants coming from Libya, there has been an increase in the number leaving from Tunisia.

Eight people died on Sunday night when a Tunisian navy ship crashed into a migrant boat off the country's Kerkenna islands.

In September, Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano travelled to Tripoli to propose resettling around the world a thousand vulnerable migrants stuck in Libya.

He said it would begin as a pilot scheme with “1,000 migrants” and entail “several countries around the world welcoming these people”.

More than 600,000 people from Africa, Asia and the Middle East have arrived in Italy since 2014, many of them by sea from Libya. Italy is also looking hard at other ways of discouraging migrants from crossing, including incentives for a voluntary return home.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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