On the defensive after a deadly migrant boat shipwreck near an Italian beach, Italy’s right-wing government is arguing that Russian mercenaries in Libya are responsible for a surge in migrant arrivals in alleged retaliation for Western support for Ukraine. are behind.
On Monday evening, Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, a prominent figure in Premier Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, called the recent increase in the setting up of unscrupulous smugglers’ boats from Libya to Italian shores as “part of a clear strategy of the Wagner hybrid war”. ” told. The divisions, mercenaries paid by Russia, are wielding significant weight in several African countries.”
Based on that claim, Brothers of Italy lawmaker Silvio Giovine on Tuesday characterized the migrant flow toward Italy as “retribution against Europe and the West.”
Italy estimates 680,000 migrants in Libya seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe
The far-right lawmaker claimed that members of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor in Libya, seek to destabilize the North African country. For years, fighting between rival Libyan militias has made the country a largely lawless land where smugglers and smugglers can flourish.
Some analysts were quick to dismiss Crosetto’s claim that the Wagner group was behind migrant arrivals, which have nearly tripled so far this year compared to each of the previous two years.
“This is nonsense,” tweeted Wolfram Lachert, an analyst at SWP, a Berlin-based institute for research on foreign and security policy. “The increase in migrant departures from eastern Libya over the past year is under the supervision of the Haftar clan” – a reference to Khalifa Hifter, a powerful Libyan military commander.
Wagner mercenaries are assisting Hifter forces and are mainly concentrated in central and eastern Libya.
Other Meloni aides have cited Italian intelligence services’ fears in recent days that some 685,000 migrants now in Libya could soon be headed for Italy on smugglers’ ships. But UN migration agency officials have dismissed that scenario as implausible, saying there could be as many as 700,000 migrants living in Libya, many from South African countries and wanting to return home after working in Libya.
Since its installation five months ago, Meloni’s coalition government, which includes anti-migrant league leader Matteo Salvini, has cracked down on humanitarian rescue boats operating in Libya’s central Mediterranean north.
Last week, a cabinet decree targeted smugglers by making a separate offense punishable with up to 30 years in prison if a shipwreck or capsize resulted in the death of multiple migrants.
Meloni and some of his ministers have come under fire from critics – opposition leaders and humanitarian groups – who contend the February 26 shipwreck may have been hastily dispatched as migrant boats by Italian Coast Guard rescue ships, The set, which had departed from Turkey, was spotted by a patrol aircraft operated by the European Border Agency.
The premier has maintained he is innocent, saying on Monday night that “my conscience is clear.”
A staunch supporter of military aid to Ukraine as it defends itself from a full-scale invasion by Russia, Meloni cautioned against “putting your head in the sand, letting mobsters and smugglers decide who will rule our country.” enters, Wagner continues to meet mercenaries and fanatics.” Foothills in Africa.”
Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has rejected the Italian claims. In a comment posted on his messaging app Channel, Prigozhin denied that Wagner had any connection to the increase in smugglers’ boats.
3 boats off Italy coast, 1,300 migrants ‘at risk’, officials say
“We have no idea what is happening with the migrant crisis,” Prigozhin said. “We have nothing to do with it. We have our own business to deal with,” an apparent reference to the Wagner fighters’ role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The known death toll in the shipwreck off the “toe” of the Italian peninsula rose to 80 on Tuesday with the recovery of a man’s body at sea. Eighty people survived.
Another minister from Meloni’s party, Adolfo Urso, a former member of the parliamentary commission on intelligence, said Wagner’s role in Africa was cited in a 2021 report to lawmakers.
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Urso, who is Minister of Business Enterprise, said that report stated that “there was a specific strategy of the Russian power aimed at controlling the country with the flow of immigration that then took place in our Mediterranean region.”
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