Up to six vessels would be deployed to support the Libyan coast guard in the interception and return of refugees and migrants to Libya "where they would face horrific abuses," says Amnesty International.
Proposals to send warships to police Libyan territorial waters are a shameful attempt by the Italian authorities to circumvent their duty to rescue refugees and migrants at sea and to offer protection to those who need it, Amnesty International said on Monday, ahead of a vote in the Italian parliament tomorrow.
"Rather than sending ships to help save lives and offer protection to desperate refugees and migrants, Italy is planning to deploy warships to push them back to Libya," Amnesty International's Europe Director John Dalhuisen said in a statement.
"This shameful strategy is not designed to end the spiralling death toll in the central Mediterranean but rather to keep refugees and migrants from Italian shores. Claims that the rights of those returned will be respected will ring hollow in the ears of those that have fled horrific abuse in Libyan detention centres," Dalhuisen said.
Italy to decide 2moro to use warships to push refugees back in to Libya exposing them 2 grave abuses. Act now: https://t.co/dMRAuU8kYz— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) July 31, 2017
Caught in the crossfire
The global rights watchdog said that up to six vessels would be deployed to support the Libyan coast guard in the interception and return of refugees and migrants to Libya, "where they would face horrific abuses and human rights violations."
The rights body said that Italian military personnel are likely to be authorised to use force against smugglers and traffickers, and the plan could also result in refugees and migrants being caught in the crossfire.
Nearly 95,000 people reached Italy this year, embarking on smugglers' dinghies from the shores of the lawless Libya.
Italy says the navy vessels will combat human trafficking, as well as looking to strengthen Libya's southern border, which many refugees cross on their way.
On July 26, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that the request of sending naval ships to Libya came from the country's Prime Minister Fayez al Serraj.
EU funds Italy's manoeuvres
Last week on Friday, the European Union gave $54 million to Italy to help it protect Libya's northern and southern borders, part of the bloc's efforts to stem arrival of African migrants across the Mediterranean.
The EU's strategy has been badly criticised by rights groups for pushing people back to inhumane treatment and other perils in Libya's chaos, and failing to offer them enough protection.
"If we want to stop the flow, there must be an element of deterrence. This is Realpolitik, Italy is the EU state that has the biggest presence on the ground in Libya, has an embassy and intelligence there," a senior EU official said.
"If we want someone to do something that will actually make a change, it can only be Italy. We will support them financially and that should bring effects."
France has also attempted to intervene in the civil war in Libya. President Emmanuel Macron hosted Libya's rival leaders in July where they committed to a ceasefire and elections in 2018. However, the truce agreement was based on conditions underpinning the use of force.