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‘We will take you to Italy, now sleep’ – the secret shame of Italy’s mass returns

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Reportage. Hundreds of refugees were returned to Libyan detention camps to face death and torture after the intervention of private Italian ships in 2018. We investigate the Italian role in these mass rejections.

written by Sarita Fratini

Topic Refugees

July 2, 2020

On July 30, 2018, the Italian ship Asso Ventotto rescued 101 people and then returned them to Libya. The freighter supports a platform belonging to Mellitah Oil & Gas (a company 50% owned by ENI). How long did the Italians care? Only about 48 hours, time enough for a few newspaper articles and for a complaint to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Naples (where the ship’s owner is headquartered). Then, nothing.

I was interested in the fate of the victims: where they were, who they were. So, a year ago, I decided to look for them in the Libyan camps. I didn’t manage to find them, but I tracked down other people—many others—who said they had also been rejected to Libya by an Asso vessel. This seems to have happened a month before the infamous case, on the night between July 1 and 2, 2018.

It was a collective rejection on an enormous scale (we are talking about 276 people), never declared by the Italian government or by the ship’s owner, Augusta Offshore, yet recorded in one of the Arabic-language reports that the Libyan Navy posted online with great punctuality at the time: “The tugboat Asso was sent to support the patrol and provide assistance.”

Young Ato Solomon (the names used are all pseudonyms) told us that there were several hundred people aboard the Asso, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese. Many were minors, like him. There were also many women, some pregnant or with small children. They immediately asked for protection, and the captain reassured them: “We will take you to Italy. Now, sleep.” The next morning, they were disembarked at the port of Tripoli in the presence of the IOM and locked up in several camps.

It was........

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