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Viewing cable 09TRIPOLI391, LIBYA TAKES BACK 500 ITALY-BOUND MIGRANTS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TRIPOLI391 2009-05-14 16:04 2011-01-31 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tripoli
VZCZCXRO4620
OO RUEHBZ RUEHDBU RUEHDU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHMR RUEHNP RUEHPA
RUEHRN RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHTRO #0391/01 1341638
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O P 141638Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4817
INFO RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5347
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0517
RUEHVT/AMEMBASSY VALLETTA PRIORITY 0416
RUEHZO/AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000391 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG, PRM, AND DRL/NESCA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  5/14/2019 
TAGS: SMIG PHUM PREL MARR PREF KTIP IT LY
SUBJECT: LIBYA TAKES BACK 500 ITALY-BOUND MIGRANTS 
 
REF: TRIPOLI 273 TRIPOLI 00000391 001.2 OF 002 CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) Summary: Implementation of a key component of the Italian-Libyan "friendship agreement" has begun, as Italy has returned approximately 500 migrants rescued and interdicted at sea to Libya over the past week. Libyan authorities have notified the local offices of IOM and UNHCR before returning boats arrive in Tripoli to facilitate medical screening, identification, and consular notification. The returnees are then placed in immigrant detention centers. UNHCR has interviewed a number of the detained returnees, noting that only "a handful" of the 500 are likely asylum seekers - mostly of Somali and Eritrean origin; the rest are economic migrants. The GOL is expected to accept delivery of six Italian patrol vessels this week, and to start patrolling Libya's coast with a joint Libyan-Italian crew and command in June. One Italian diplomat said he hoped the Libyan cooperation would continue, but suspected that it was linked to Muammar al-Qadhafi's planned mid-June visit to Rome. End Summary.

ITALY TURNS BACK OVER 500 MIGRANTS INTERDICTED AT SEA

2.(C) Libya has accepted the return of three tranches of migrants interdicted or rescued at sea by Italian authorities in recent days, beginning implementation of a key component of the Italian-Libyan "friendship agreement" signed last August aimed at reducing the flow of migrants from Libya to Italy. In each case, the Italians contacted the Libyan navy, which agreed to accept their return to Libya. The Libyan navy did not/not agree to take the migrants on Libyan vessels; rather, in one case, it instructed Italian energy company ENI, which operates an offshore platform in the area, to tow an African vessel to shore; in the other cases, it permitted the Italian navy to transport the migrants back to Tripoli. Once in Tripoli, according to the Italian Embassy, the migrants were processed in an orderly fashion and sent to a detention center.

3.(C) The first group of 227 returnees arrived in Tripoli on May 7. A regional IOM team in Tripoli implementing a G/TIP-funded workshop to enhance Libya's response to human smuggling and trafficking was on hand to help screen the arrivals and visit one of the three detention centers where the migrants were held. The trainers described conditions in the centers as overcrowded, but noted that IOM's Libyan partner - the International Organization for Peace, Care, and Relief (IOPCR) - was providing humanitarian assistance similar to that given during a recent high-profile loss of over 200 migrants in late March (ref A). IOM is assisting the GOL obtain treatment for some returnees suffering from dehydration and scabies and has asked for financial support to ensure continued care. Another boat carrying 163 arrived on May 10. IOM reported that a third ship arrived on May 9 and that IOM is receiving notice from the GOL before the ships arrive so that IOM staff can monitor the disembarkation.

A "HANDFUL" OF MIGRANTS ARE LIKELY ASYLUM SEEKERS

4.(C) IOM staff here characterized the recent returnees as "the usual suspects" of Nigerian, Nigerien, Ghanaian, and South Asian nationality. The UNHCR mission reportedly interviewed many of the returnees and found fewer than 10 migrants who were likely asylum seekers including "four or five" Somalis and "a handful" of Eritreans.

JOINT PATROLS TO BEGIN THIS WEEK BUT ENFORCEMENT MAY BE SHORT-LIVED

5.(C) Shortly after Libya and Italy exchanged instruments of ratification of the friendship and cooperation treaty in March 2009, Italian embassy contacts told us that 43 Libyans had applied for visas to collect six patrol vessels from Italy. The GOL is expected to accept delivery of the Italian vessels this week, and to start patroling Libya's coast with a joint Libyan-Italian crew and command in June. According to the Italian Embassy, there will be 15 Italian naval personnel stationed in Libya for this purpose. One Italian diplomat said he hoped the Libyan cooperation on halting illegal migration to Italy would continue, but suspected that it was a gesture to curry favor in Rome prior to Muammar al-Qadhafi's planned mid-June visit to meet PM Berlusconi.

6.(C) Comment: Post does not have direct access to immigrant detention centers. Over the past year, contacts have described the facilities as ranging from "poor and crowded" to "acceptable" and both IOM and UNHCR have said conditions have improved over the past 12 months. Both organizations have regular access to the facilities, but limited capacity to provide care. Conditions will likely become worse if similar numbers of migrants crowd facilities. The GOL currently keeps TRIPOLI 00000391 002.2 OF 002 family and national groups together - in part to facilitate mass deportation by charter plane to West Africa. In the March tragedy, of the 21 rescued from the sea, all Arabs were deported and the GOL facilitated consular access for the Africans whose countries had representation in Tripoli. Others were integrated into the general population of immigration detainees, and the GOL's record-keeping shortcomings make it difficult for organizations to track these migrants. End comment. CRETZ