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Italy considering moving troops to fight human traffickers in Niger

By Stefania Fumo ROME Italy (Xinhua) -- Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has said the government would ask the parliament to move some Italian troops from Iraq to the western African country of Niger, in order to fight human traffickers and terrorism in the landlocked country south of Libya.

Italy currently has 6,800 troops deployed in 33 non-combat missions jointly with NATO, the EU, and the UN in 22 different countries, most of them in Africa and the Middle East, according to Italian ministry of defense.

In a pre-Christmas address to Navy officers and crew on board the Navy ship Etna on Sunday, the premier said the fight against human traffickers—who bring illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean to southern Europe—is one of Italy’s “strategic and fundamental interests”.

The Etna ship is part of EUNavForMed, a European Union mission launched in 2015 to fight human traffickers in the Mediterranean.

“We have dealt blows to the human traffickers that perhaps we didn’t even imagine possible,” Gentiloni said in reference to deals Italy struck with Libya this year, which significantly reduced the number of traffickers’ boats crossing the Mediterranean.

Gentiloni went on to say his government will propose that Italy move some troops presently in Iraq—where their mission includes defending the Mosul dam from the so-called Islamic State (IS) extremist militia and training local forces—to Niger, a landlocked country on Libya’s southern border.

The objective of such a move, Gentiloni said, will be to fight human traffickers in Niger, a major country of transit for refugees being smuggled from Nigeria and other conflict areas, across the Sahara desert and towards the Mediterranean.

“Terrorism has been Africa” and this is why troops should be moved to Niger, Gentiloni explained in his speech, which was posted on the government’s website.

He also pointed out that Italy is not backing down on its commitment to refugee rights.

For example, Italy has opened a humanitarian corridor to grant refugees safe and legal passage out of migrant detention centers in Libya, the premier said.

On December 22, a total of 162 refugees, most of them women and children, landed at Pratica di Mare military airport near Rome.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti—who was instrumental in striking agreements with Libya to shut down the trafficking routes—was there to meet them on arrival.

“This is a historic day,” Minniti said, according to an interior ministry statement.

“For the first time a humanitarian corridor has been opened from Libya towards Europe.”

The 162 refugees arrived thanks to an agreement between Italy, Libya, the United Nations, and the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), the statement said.

“This is just the beginning,” Minniti said.

“We will continue...fighting illegality and building legality.”

Italy has borne the brunt of the migrant crisis because its southernmost islands are the first European landfall for migrant vessels crossing the Mediterranean.



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