Blood on the EU’s hands: what happens when “security” overshadows human rights


On the 12 March 2019, the London School of Economics Italian Society hosted the former Italian Interior Minister, Marco Minniti, for a conference on “the situation of the Mediterranean Sea, migration and security”.

Students, academics and activists were there not only to hear what Minniti had to say about the policies enacted during his mandate, but to challenge him on the matter of migrants’ human rights.

Indeed, some expressed concern at the apparent lack of consideration for human rights by the Italian government in enacting certain controversial measures aiming to reduce the number of migrants arriving from Libya.

Such measures include the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Libya and the code of conduct for NGOs in the Mediterranean. Italy, backed by Europe, justified these inhuman agreements as means for the war against human trafficking and illegal immigration, washing its hands of any responsibility concerning migrants’ safety. Unfortunately, these concerns were unsatisfactorily addressed by Minniti, who only vaguely answered the questions.

A deadly legacy

Political rhetoric, however, must not have us forget the deadly legacy of these policies and the impact they are still having on people on the move across the Mediterranean and in Libya.

The end of the conference saw activists silently raising their hands painted red in an act of dissent against these murderous mobility regimes and what led to them. Outside the building, a yet larger group of activists and students waited for Minniti, peacefully protesting with red hands.

This visual evoking of the blood of migrants on the Italian and European governments’ hands, shed in the name of internal security, stressed the responsibility of Minniti as former Interior Minister in enacting the measures that led to the consolidation of the current murderous mobility regimes and what has been labelled ‘Fortress Europe’.

While many blame Matteo Salvini for Italy’s hostile policies towards migration, they seem to forget that his political steps did not come from nowhere, and are indeed in continuation with those initiated by his predecessor, Minniti.

The point of protest

Going back to what happened on March 12, two elements immediately caught my attention. First, the talk was mainly in Italian – a choice that made it difficult for those who don’t speak this language to truly understand what was said.

Second, one of the critiques advanced to the demonstrators was that of having brought up challenging questions without suggesting any solution, thus not positively contributing to the cause they were protesting about.

Why is this interesting? As a matter of fact, protesting is in itself a means for variously situated subjects to fight acquiescence and, through resistance, overthrow the legitimacy of the dominant structures of power. To say that a protest is not suggesting any solution is to underestimate a subversive act that is never worthless.

Not only did the demonstrators on that day contribute to the issue at stake by protesting, but also by means of a ‘counter-conference’. ‘Blood on the EU’s hands: Libya, the Mediterranean and possibilities for political change’ discussed both Italian and European migration and border policies in the Mediterranean.

Minniti and migration

To his supporters, Minniti is the man who provided solutions to Europe’s migration crisis at its peak.

To his critics, he is in charge of human rights violations for migrants crossing the Mediterranean and those trapped in Libyan detention centres, because of the agreements the Italian and Libyan governments signed during his mandate. Through his emphasis on security, Minniti contributed to shifting the goalposts of the centre-left and became a cross-party appealing political figure of contemporary Italian politics.

Supported by the EU, Minniti sealed the border to the South of Europe through the MoU with Libya and the Permanent Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.

Under the MoU, Italy supplies Libya with technical support to boost the Libyan coastguard and secure the Libyan shores. The MoU clashes with the International Refugee Law principle of non-refoulement that forbids states to return asylum seekers to countries where they could face persecution. Under this, Libya would prevent illegal migrants from departing from its shores and accept those sent back.

Upon request of the EU and as a result of a unanimous vote of the Italian Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, Minniti promoted the Code of Conduct (CoC) for NGOs in the Mediterranean. This represented a huge step towards the de-legitimisation and criminalisation of the work of SAR NGOs that has since been intensified by the current Interior Minister Salvini.

Under the CoC, NGOs are not allowed on Libyan waters. Also, despite the well-documented human rights abuses in Libyan detention camps and dangerous actions undertaken by the Libyan coastguard, NGOs are forced not to hinder Libyan SAR operations. It also enforces the presence of judicial police officers on NGO vessels and for them to collaborate in investigations, despite the humanitarian principle of neutrality of the NGOs.

Another obnoxious policy that has been enacted during Minniti’s mandate as Interior Minister is the Minniti-Orlando decree. To ‘curtail illegal immigration’, it provided for the increase of the Accommodation Centres for Repatriations’ capacity and number, by establishing them in the outskirts of cities of every Italian region.

In order to accelerate international protection procedures, instead of three judicial levels, migrants appealing against an asylum decision will only be entitled to two, gravely reducing their guarantees and entitlement to an effective access to justice.

What’s also shocking is that, under this decree, the court is not obliged to hear the asylum seeker, unless deemed necessary.

Blood on whose hands?

Minniti’s changes in the Italian immigration policy have faced considerable criticism from individuals, migrants’ human rights organisations and NGOs, yet the main actors have often kept silent on the issue.

All the policies I here discussed were backed and/or encouraged by the other EU members, which makes Europe accountable too for the bloodshed in the Mediterranean and for the lives of those who are trapped or sent back to Libya.

While his predecessor has been quieter about his achievements, the current Interior Minister Salvini is making a lot of noise about migration, boosting a climate of hate and fear and putting the lives of thousands of people in serious danger.

Yet, once we think of Minniti’s legacy, are we really sure that centre-left and right-wing are really that different, when it comes to migration?

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