This US Department of State cable, released by WikiLeaks on 1 Feb 2011, was written by Gene Cretz, US Ambassador to Libya. The cable is entitled “The Frogman Who Couldn’t Swim: A Cooperation Cautionary Tale.” (The cable’s title refers to an incident where Libya sent a member of its Public Security organization who was unable to swim to Italy for training in underwater explosives detection and demolition.)
The cable was written on 17 February 2009 in the same month that the provisions of the Italy-Libya agreement relating to Italy’s maritime push-back practice took effect and three months before the first major interceptions and forcible returns of hundreds of migrants to Libya which occurred in May 2009. If the US Ambassador’s reporting in the cable is accurate, it would suggest that Italy’s Ambassador to Libya at the time did not believe that Libya was about to begin cooperating with Italy on illegal migration. Though the cable does point out that comments made by the Italian Ambassador “pre-dated the early February visit to Libya by Italy’s Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni, who signed an MOU to implement earlier agreements on counter-migration and counterterrorism cooperation.”
Excerpts from the Cable:
“ITALY ALARMED BY INCREASE IN NUMBER OF ILLEGAL MIGRANTS TRANSITING LIBYA
¶2. (C) At a recent meeting hosted by the U.K. Ambassador to discuss counterterrorism engagement efforts, Italian Ambassador Francesco Trupiani expressed profound frustration with difficulties Italy had encountered in trying to cooperate with the GOL on counterterrorism and combatting illegal migration (Italy views the two issues as being linked). Italy was alarmed by the marked increase in the number of illegal migrants that had arrived in Italy – primarily on the island of Lampedusa – from Libya. By way of example, he offered that 1,300 Tunisian illegal migrants traveled from Libya to Italy in 2007. In 2008, 5,900 Tunisians made landfall in Italy after departing from Libya’s coast. The number of migrants from Somalia – “a derelict state” – who had arrived in Italy increased from 5,110 in 2007 to 31,764 in 2008. The number of Nigerians had increased threefold and featured a heavy contingent of prostitutes and narco-traffickers.
LIBYA DELAYING COOPERATION TO LEVERAGE EU FRAMEWORK NEGOTIATIONS?
¶3. (C) Noting that smuggling illegal migrants was highly profitable, that the GOL claimed to exercise tight control over travel within Libya, and that senior regime officials traditionally had a direct stake in highly lucrative enterprises (licit and otherwise), Trupiani said it was “implausible” that large numbers of illegal migrants had transited Libya without at least the tacit consent of GOL officials. The substantial increase in the number of illegal migrants meant a corresponding increase in the amount of money involved. He speculated that there could be a “logical nexus” between smuggling of illegal migrants, arms trafficking and movement of terrorists, and lamented that no one appeared to be holding the GOL accountable for its failure to more effectively address those inter-related problems. Worse, the GOL appeared to be deliberately delaying engagement with Italy and other European partners to leverage negotiations for a Libya-EU Framework Agreement (EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner was in Tripoli February 9-10 for the latest round of negotiations).
¶6. (C) Trupiani was not optimistic that bilateral cooperation would improve in the near term. (Note: Our exchange with Trupiani pre-dated the early February visit to Libya by Italy’s Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni, who signed an MOU to implement earlier agreements on counter-migration and counterterrorism cooperation (further details septel). End note.) He cited lack of human capacity and rampant corruption and nepotism as limited factors….”