Ex-spymaster credited with Italy's migrant curbs

Mr Marco Minniti has invested heavily in alliances with African power brokers, tribal leaders and mayors of towns hit by human trafficking.
Mr Marco Minniti has invested heavily in alliances with African power brokers, tribal leaders and mayors of towns hit by human trafficking.

ROME • European nations are now looking at Italy, which has managed to reduce the number of migrants arriving on its shores, and the tough Italian government official who many credit for the drop - or accuse of introducing draconian policies - is Interior Minister Marco Minniti, a former spymaster.

On Monday, as European and African leaders gathered in Paris, Mr Minniti met in Rome with Libyan mayors and representatives from Chad, Niger and Mali.

Mr Minniti, who knows Libya well from his years as Italy's spymaster, has emerged as a powerful force in recent months, playing a central role in negotiations with Libyan leaders and applying a stricter code of conduct to international aid ships operating just outside Libyan waters.

Since the middle of last month, Italy has experienced a major reduction in migrants reaching its shores. Just over 4,000 migrants have come in since then, about a fifth of the number who came during the same period in the last three years.

While the exact reasons for the drop are unclear, Mr Minniti's strong hand appears to be paying off. His office released a statement, after he met the African officials, expressing satisfaction with the Paris meeting's Africa-focused agenda.

Mr Minniti has invested heavily in alliances with African power brokers, Libyan tribal leaders and mayors of towns afflicted by trafficking.

In a recent interview, he said that in earlier meetings with Libyan mayors, they discussed "a type of pact". "You help us stop human traffickers, and we will help free you from the blackmail of the human traffickers," he recounted telling them.

"Because in this moment, the human trafficking is an economic circuit. It's perhaps one of the few businesses that work in Libya and, like all business, it pays salaries - naturally criminal salaries. To challenge this criminal income, you have to create a transparent income. Good money that drives away the bad money."

Not everyone in Italy is comfortable with the tough approach. Last week, the police in Rome used water cannon as they evicted hundreds of migrants, many of who had been granted refugee status, from an apartment building they had illegally occupied for years in the centre of town.

Critics called the removals inhumane and unfair, because Italy failed to help provide many of the migrants with housing after they attained legal status as refugees.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-spymaster credited with Italy's migrant curbs'. Print Edition | Subscribe