The Italian parliament approved a plan last night to donate a further 12 patrol vessels to the Libyan coastguard to help push back migrants setting sail for Europe. They will join four Italian boats already given to Libya and will be crewed by EU-trained sailors.
The latest gift was endorsed by MPs from the new populist government, despite opposition demands that Libya guarantee the human rights of migrants. Tempers rose and insults were traded in parliament after opposition MPs argued that Libya was not a safe port for rescued migrants.
Matteo Salvini, the hardliner interior minister, has pushed through plans to strengthen the Libyan coastguard as he closes ports to charity boats, which have brought thousands of rescued migrants to Italy. The plan to equip the Libyans is backed by the EU, which has funded the training of 237 Libyan coastguard officers. The latest course was run by the Spanish navy.
This year the Libyan coastguard has intercepted 12,720 migrants at sea and returned them to Libya, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Departures from Libya to Italy have fallen this year as Spain becomes the top destination for migrants in the Mediterranean, but deaths at sea on the Libya route rose last month to 157, from 68 in July last year.