Number of people crossing Mediterranean rises again amid power struggle between rival factions in Libyan human-trafficking port
A key pillar of the Italian governments effort to stem the politically toxic issue of people crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to southern Italy is in danger of collapse as a result of a bloody power struggle in the key Libyan port of Sabratha, the epicentre of human trafficking to Italy.
The Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, had hailed an 80% drop in the number of migrants reaching Italy in July and August, but the number of migrants suddenly started rising again last month as the Sabratha power struggle unfolded, suggesting rival gangs, fighting for control of the profitable business, may not prove reliable partners for the Italians.
The strategy to stem the flow of people from Libya largely masterminded by the Italian interior minister, Marco Minniti – is seen by the governing Democratic party (PD) as critical to its fortunes in elections next spring.
The PD is under assault from an array of anti-migrant populist parties which, if victorious, would wreck pro-European leaders plans for a stronger, more integrated EU.
The summer fall in migrants reaching Italy from Libya was attributed to many factors, including a better and more aggressive, Italian-trained Libyan coastguard turning back 60% of ships leaving the coastline.
But the Italians had also reached an understanding with militia to clamp down on smuggling in Sabratha, a town 40 miles (70km) west of Tripoli that is seen as the smugglers main port of departure.