Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has made his first trip abroad since taking office in February and arrived in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Tuesday to discuss a wide range of issues with the North African country’s interim prime minister.
Draghi held talks with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and followed in the footsteps of other European leaders who recently met with Libya’s new caretaker government, which took power last month to unite the country, which has been divided by civil war for nearly a decade. Dbeibah’s interim leadership is also slated to run in the country through general elections on December 24.
At a press conference, Draghi said that the fact that he made Libya the destination of his first trip outside Italy as a premier was proof of the solid, historical ties between the two countries that he aimed to deepen.
“There is a desire for a future, to restart quickly,” Draghi said. He added that Italy was pleased with Libya’s efforts for migrant rescue and said that the European Union was investing in the issue, which he said “is not just geopolitical but humanitarian.”
Italy, as part of the EU, has partnered with local Libyan institutions to try to stop the migration waters, with tens of thousands leaving Libya’s shores, many with Italy as their intended destination.
In recent years, the Union has cooperated with the Libyan Coast Guard and other local groups to stop such dangerous sea crossings. However, rights groups say that this policy leaves migrants in armed groups or confined to unhappy detention centers that are abused.
Draghi’s statements come amid criticism from Italian journalists and lawmakers at home over the interception of reporters’ phone calls during investigations into Libyan – based migrant trafficking in human beings and humanitarian rescue groups.
Investigations go back a few years ago when former Italian government officials cracked down on humanitarian ships rescuing migrants in the central Mediterranean from trafficking by traffickers.
Meanwhile, Dbeibah said the two leaders had agreed to take steps to completely resume commercial air travel between their countries and to make it easier for Libyans to apply for visas to Italy from within the country.
Libya was thrown into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew the long-serving ruler Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has in recent years been divided between rival eastern and western-based administrations, each supported by various armed groups and foreign governments.
The meeting between the two leaders underlines the interest Italy has maintained in Libya in recent years, especially with regard to migration. Italy was a supporter of Libya’s former UN-backed government, which was also based in Tripoli.
However, that government failed to gain acceptance in the east of the country, where Commander Khalifa Haftar is holding on, with the support of countries such as Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.