Migration: Rome fears influence of Wagner group in Libya

Migration: Rome fears influence of Wagner group in Libya

Italy is fighting the rising number of refugees. The focus is on Libya with concern: 700,000 migrants are said to be waiting there.

Pieces of wood, empty petrol cans, engine parts and soft toys: the sea washes up the last remains of the fishing trawler that sank off the coast of the small town of Cutro in the heart of Calabria. The white sandy beach, where bathers happily frolic in the summer, has become the scene of an accident.

Two and a half weeks ago, the “Summer Love” that had left Izmir, Turkey, crashed here – a fishing cutter with around 180 migrants on board who were hoping for a better future in Europe. The ship with the romantic name capsized 150 meters off the coast of Cutros. Meanwhile, 86 bodies have been recovered, including 35 children. Hardly a day goes by without more human remains being found. According to the authorities, 15 people are still missing.

The migrants who died in the accident come from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Many of them have relatives who have traveled from Germany to look for their missing family members. “Please don’t give up the search for the last missing person,” pleads Zahra Barati, an Afghan woman who lost her brother in the shipwreck on February 26. He wanted to reach them in Finland before drowning just short of the finish in Calabria.

Cutro has experienced emigration itself – also to Germany

Zahra gazes at the smooth sea that lies calm before her. Nothing is reminiscent of the night storm that contributed to the accident. “This event is a tragedy for our community,” said Cutro Mayor Antonio Ceraso. “We mourn the dead as if we had lost our own loved ones. We have never experienced drama of this magnitude.”

His municipality, with around 10,500 inhabitants, knows the phenomenon of migration well. Because in the past few decades, numerous citizens of Cutro have emigrated to Germany and the USA in search of work and prosperity. Many later returned home. So it is not uncommon to find people who speak fluent German in the main square of Cutros.

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The community has responded to the tragedy with great solidarity. Mayor Ceraso pulled out all the stops to ensure the best possible support for the survivors in clearing the bureaucratic hurdles for the funeral of their relatives. Some coffins have already been shipped to Pakistan. However, the situation is proving to be more problematic for the Afghans. Due to the turmoil in the country, it is currently impossible to return the bodies to their homeland.

21,000 migrants have arrived in Lampedusa since the beginning of the year

“We are now wondering what will happen to the survivors. How can fathers who lost wives and children in the tragedy survive? What do the children who have lost their parents do?” Ceraso agonizes as he clears a 900-meter plot at the local cemetery for the bodies and organizes the burial.

Not only Cutro is directly confronted with the consequences of the strong migration movements. The island of Lampedusa, now known as the migrant ghetto in the Mediterranean, is also groaning under the immigration flow, which has reached record levels. 21,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the beginning of the year, more than three times the number for the same period in 2022. The increase was particularly concentrated in the three days from March 9-11, when 4,566 people arrived, according to figures from the Interior Ministry in Rome .

In recent months there have been increasing numbers of small boats bringing groups of Tunisians to Lampedusa. Tunisians are considered economic migrants. They have no hope of refugee status in Italy. Most of them go into hiding after landing in Italy, try to reach relatives in northern Italy, France and other European countries, or make ends meet as illegal immigrants without a right of residence.

Meloni has failed to stop migration to Italy

The Lampedusa refugee camp is chronically overcrowded. Mayor Filippo Mannino has his hands full organizing accommodation for the new migrants arriving on the island every day. “Despite the major problems in the hopelessly overcrowded refugee facility, it is important that the migrants can land safely,” emphasizes Mannino. He praises the tireless efforts of the Coast Guard, which saves dozens of people every day.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has come under fire because of the strong migratory pressure. The right-wing foreign politician was elected in September mainly thanks to the promise to stop the migration flows from North Africa. Despite sharp battle slogans, she doesn’t seem to be able to do this. That is why the government is keen to warn that if the number of arrivals continues to increase, the problem could spiral out of control.

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“This is no longer a question of whether we should take in migrants or not. We are dealing with a phenomenon that could take on unmanageable proportions in a few months’ time,” alarmed Europe Minister Raffaele Fitto. The secret services warned the government at the weekend that almost 700,000 migrants in Libya were ready to leave for Italy.

Government blames Wagner Group for high migration

The government blames the Russian mercenary group “Wagner”, which controls large parts of the coast in Libya, for the large migration movements. Defense Minister Guido Crosetto stressed that the increase in crossings was clearly part of Moscow’s hybrid warfare against the West.

Crosetto believes that the Wagner Group has considerable political influence in some African countries, especially in Libya, and can thus direct the flow of migrants. In Syria, Mali, Libya and the Central African Republic, the Wagner group is said to have been involved in the suppression of uprisings.

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