Appeal to the Italian Government, to UNHCR and IOM for the immediate withdrawal of the Italy-Libya Memorandum


An appeal signed by over 170 organisations and individuals, including Statewatch, calls on the Italian government to "immediately revoke the Memorandum of Understanding" signed with Libya, due to its facilitation of "models of exploitation and enslavement within which violence that constitutes crimes against humanity is systematically perpetrated." The appeal, organised by the Italian legal association ASGI, is open for further signatures.

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The appeal is also available in Arabic, French and Italian (pdfs).

The system based on the Italy-Libya Memorandum has not led to any significant improvements in the Libyan situation. On the contrary, it demonstrated the impossibility of guaranteeing effective access to protection for migrants stranded in Libya.

In early October, the Libyan government carried out raids and random mass  in Tripoli neighbourhoods. Many foreign nationals were arrested including people officially registered by UNHCR and those in particularly vulnerable situations, such as minors and pregnant women.

The foreign nationals were later imprisoned in  detention centres run by the Libyan Ministry of the Interior where they were subjected to ill-treatment and torture. In the Al Mabani centre, six people were killed and 24 injured by gunfire.

The reaction to such violent and discriminatory measures was unprecedented: thousands of migrants have been protesting for almost two months in front of the UNHCR office in Tripoli, demanding to be transferred to a safe country and and their safety to be  guaranteed. For the first time, even in the international press, a new entity emerges under the name Refugees in Libya, formed by a committee of migrants interacting with international organisations and actors in Libya and elsewhere. 

At the moment, however, no adequate solution exists: the UNHCR office in Libya, during a meeting with the Committee, stated that they "can not assure [migrants and refugees] of any safety and protection upon your return to Libyan society," but that they are working towards the reopening of evacuation flights. Flights have indeed resumed with departures to Niger and Rwanda through the Emergency Transit Mechanism. As the Committee and the UN agency itself point out, however, the number of evacuations remains appallingly low. Although UNHCR admitted in recent interviews that it is unable to provide protection to asylum seekers in Libya, it stated that solutions must be found to ensure the protection of foreign nationals within the country, through dialogue with the Libyan government. Under the current conditions, however, such a strategy cannot be considered in any way adequate. Several branches of the government are in fact actively involved in the chain of abuse and exploitation of migrants, as the Refugees in Libya Committee well expressed in their manifesto.

The Committee denounces the lack of security, the exposure of migrants to arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, torture: treatments that have already been defined as crimes against humanity by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM).

As highlighted in the latest FFM report and in many other briefs , the violations are not episodic but are rather part of an operational model - defined also as a business model - consisting of the following moments: 

(i) the interception at sea by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, often characterised by extremely risky procedures; 

(ii) Migrants’ systematic return right after disembarkation to Libyan detention centres managed by the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) of the Ministry of the Interior and eventually their  sale to criminal groups; 

(iii) migrants’ expsosure  to torture and ill-treatment for the purpose of extortion or various forms of exploitation and 'profit extraction' such as forced labour, forced prostitution and kidnapping for ransom. 

Even considering the complexity of the North African country, it is necessary to strongly denounce that Italian and European cooperation with Libyan authorities - and in particular the Italy-Libya Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that caused the block of the departures - are increasing and helping to build these models of exploitation of migrants residing in the country. 

With EU financial and political support, the Italy-Libya MoU defines the cooperation between the two countries. At the same time the MoU  is not in any way preventing migrants’ rights violations perpetrated in the country, but rather indirectly creates the conditions for their continuation. The UN FFM, after recalling how such violence constitutes a systematic and widespread attack directed at this population, recalls that "This finding is made notwithstanding the responsibility that may be borne by third States and further investigations are required to establish the role of all those involved, directly or indirectly, in these crimes."

In order to fully understand the dynamics structured by the Memorandum, it is necessary to read the first two articles of the said Memorandum in their reciprocal correlation.

Following art. 1 of the MoU Italy - thanks to the economic and political support of the European Commission - has provided the Libyan authorities with the political legitimacy and the necessary tools to systematically prevent the escape of foreign nationals from Libya. 

Under the MoU interception at sea is followed by the systematic detention of foreign nationals for an indefinite period of time. In this detention regime, crimes defined by the UN as crimes against humanity are committed in both informal and official detention centres. 

Article 2 of MoU  also envisages, on the one hand the “adaptation and financing of reception centres” and, on the other hand, the  “support for international organisations present and operating in Libya to pursue efforts aimed at the return of migrants to their countries of origin, including voluntary return”. 

Since 2017,  international organisations have been receiving substantial funding in order to improve living conditions in detention centres or to facilitate the evacuation of refugees to EU countries or other foreign nationals to their countries of origin. 

Nevertheless, as confirmed during the dialogue between  the Refugees in Libya Committee  and  international organisations and stated by UNHCR in recent interviews, detention conditions remain harsh and it has proved impossible to guarantee the safety of migrants in the country.

On several occasions, however, international organizations’ engagement in the country has been used by governments to justify the blockade and cooperation policies set out in Art. 1. 

In summary, taking into account the experience gained over time, repatriation and evacuation programmes managed by UNHCR and IOM cannot be considered as a sufficient measure to counterbalance the risks and damages resulting from Italian funding to the Libyan authorities. This approach also risks compromising the independence of the international organisations by giving them a subordinate role to the policies of counteracting immigration to Europe. Therefore, not neutral with respect to the problems illustrated above and to the stability of the entire system designed by the Memorandum. 

In the system supported by the MoU, these organisations are not only central actors in the management of the evacuation programmes and the main beneficiaries of the funding for projects developed in the detention centres. Since they participate in the meetings of the Joint Committee on the execution of the Memorandum (art. 3), their activity is functional to the achievement of its objectives even though they cannot guarantee in any way the fundamental rights of the people involved. 

In order to better understand the criticality of the mechanisms that should guarantee access to rights to migrants stranded in Libya, the specific legal and factual fragilities of the evacuation and repatriation systems are outlined below. These fragilities reveal how these instruments cannot in any way mitigate the policies of detention and refoulement and are not adequate to ensure foreign nationals' access to their fundamental rights, including the right to asylum.

1) UNHCR's humanitarian evacuation (Emergency Transit Mechanism) and resettlement programmes

As  well known, only a very small number of people have access to evacuation programmes, both  for the lack of cooperation of the European authorities in facilitating reintegration on their territory and for  the way in which those who can be evacuated and relocated are selected.

Under these programmes entire nationalities, regardless of the personal protection claims made by individuals, are excluded from any contact with UNHCR. Often prison guards are the ones in charge of selecting -  also on the basis of nationality - who is to meet UNHCR staff. Moreover the transfer of asylum seekers or refugees to third countries of transit takes place on the basis of future possibilities of their resettlement in EU member states.

In addition there are no effective remedies to challenge decisions on exclusion from evacuation programmes. Refugees are often not given any written refusal or the decision lack proper motivation. This is a concessionary mechanism, in which access to and recognition of refugee asylum rights is entrusted to procedures with no substantive or procedural guarantees. Although this programme is therefore an important humanitarian instrument, it is in no way adequate to constitute a valid counterbalance to blocking policies. 

2) IOM voluntary return programmes 

Foreign nationals, although in need of protection, belonging to nationalities systematically excluded from evacuation programmes are directed - often by detention centre guards themselves - to voluntary repatriation programmes. The ones in detention are asked to agree to repatriation, although the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment himself has called attention to such procedure  by pointing out that detention based solely on migration-status can also be used to force people to withdraw their asylum claims or accept voluntary return. 

Return programmes are often financed by EU Member States - including Italy - and by the Commission itself, without any agreement with international organisations on the mutual obligations arising from the funding, including the activities to be implemented and the precautions to be taken to avoid the risk of refoulement. The lack of prior control over the activities to be carried out, without requiring any guarantees, without transparency obligations and without prior risk assessment, have in fact exposed refugees, women victims of trafficking and unaccompanied minors to repatriation to their countries of origin where their safety may be at risk. 

The situation of Nigerian women victims of international trafficking is emblematic. They are  in fact constantly excluded from ETM and resettlement programmes and  directed towards so-called voluntary repatriation projects, with the very serious consequences on their safety resulting from their return to their country of origin. This example is extremely significant since trafficked women, if they could once reached an EU country, would be considered worthy of international protection. Faced with this situation, adherence to so-called voluntary return programmes seems to be the only tool available to the majority of migrants to escape detention and exploitation. Used even in situations where returning to the country of origin represents a risk to their own safety and the protection of their rights.


In light of the analysis illustrated above, it can be stated that 

  • The Italy-Libya MoU is de facto facilitating the structuring of models of exploitation and enslavement within which violence that constitutes crimes against humanity is systematically perpetrated.
  • The effective capacity of international organisations to protect migrants and asylum seekers in this situation is extremely limited and dependent on the choices of the Libyan authorities.
  • The action of international organisations cannot be considered a sufficient measure to guarantee effective access to rights and international protection in a broad and generalised manner for migrants and asylum seekers stranded in Libya, both because of the limited means and because of the very structure of the programmes, characterised by the absence of procedural guarantees for people who are excluded from access to the programmes and by evacuation and relocation measures.
  • Adherence to the so-called voluntary return programmes is the only available means  to most migrants for escaping the violence  faced in Libya, although it is a largely inadequate strategy in view of the risk that they will be subjected again if they return to their country of origin to the same persecution from which they fled.

We therefore call on 

  • the Italian government to immediately revoke the Memorandum of Understanding, as the only viable option in the face of the structural impossibility of bringing about significant improvements in the living conditions of migrants and refugees in Libya and of guaranteeing them adequate access to protection, as demonstrated by the evolution of the situation in Libya.
  • UNHCR and IOM, in accordance with their mandate to protect foreign nationals present in Libya, to express their adherence to the request for the revocation of the MoU, so as to avoid any risk of connection between the serious human rights violations stemming from the Memorandum and their own initiatives. 


Starting from today February 2, 2022, it is possible to sign the document by filling the Google form.

For associations: 

For individuals: 

Associations and Organizations

  1. Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione
  2. Un Ponte Per (UPP)
  3. ActionAid Italia
  4. Intersos
  5. European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
  6. Emergency Ong Onlus
  7. Associazione Nazionale Giuristi Democratici
  8. Fondazione Migrantes
  9. Centre for Peace Studies 
  10. The Libyan center for freedom of the press 
  11. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  12. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  13. Watch The Med - Alarm Phone
  14. Alarm Phone Sahara
  15. Avocats sans Frontières Tunisie
  16. Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux 
  17. Migreurop
  18. StateWatch
  19. Libyan Crimes Watch 
  20. المنظمة المستقلة لحقوق الإنسان
  21. Adal For All - عدالة للجميع 
  22. منطمة الأمان لمناهضة التمييز العنصري
  23. مركز مدافع لحقوق الإنسان -  Defender Center for Human Rights
  24. شبكة اصوات للاعلام 
  25. المنظمة الليبية للاعلام المستقل 
  26. مؤسسة بلادي لحقوق الإنسان 
  27. J wc
  28. A Buon Diritto Onlus APS
  29. Border Violence Monitoring Network
  30. Mediterranea Saving Humans
  31. Progetto Melting Pot Europa
  32. Medici del Mondo Italia
  33. UIL - Unione Italiana del Lavoro
  34. Trama di Terre APS Onlus
  35. CNCA
  36. Are You Syrious
  37. Mosaico azioni per i rifugiati
  39. Campagna LasciateCIEntrare
  40. Legal Team Italia
  41. Josoor
  42. NoName Kitchen 
  43. Baobab Experience
  44. Mani Rosse Antirazziste
  45. Le Veglie contro le Morti in Mare
  46. Associazione Naga - Organizzazione di volontariato per l'Assistenza Socio - Sanitaria e per i Diritti di Cittadini Stranieri, Rom e Sinti 
  47. Carovane Migranti
  48. Red Solidaria de Acogida Madrid
  49. Solidaunia-La Daunia Per Il Mondo   Odv
  50. Cestim centro studi immigrazione
  51. Associazione Don Vincenzo Matrangolo
  52. Dipende da Noi
  53. Comitato Antirazzista "5 Luglio" Fermo
  54. Casa del Popolo FERMO
  55. Origens ETS
  56. Mesagne Bene Comune
  57. Gruppo Educhiamoci alla Pace ODV BARI
  58. AMIS ONLUS - Associazione Mediatori Interculturali Salento 
  59. Comitato per la Pace - Bari
  60. APS Giraffa onlus
  61. Centro studi Alfredo Reichlin
  63. Squola senza confini - Penny Wirton Bari - OdV
  64. Convochiamoci per Bari
  65. Libera (Puglia)
  66. Gris Marche
  67. Senza confini odv
  68. Associazione Rumori Sinistri ODV
  69. Associazione No Border APS
  70. Associazione Arci Todo Cambia APS
  71. Associazione Periplo ODV
  72. Cidas Cooperativa sociale
  73. Acli Milano Monza e Brianza aps
  74. Associazione Deposito Dei Segni Onlus
  75. ANPI Chioggia
  76. Asinichevolano Aps
  77. Mare Memória Viva
  78. Auser Montesilvano APS
  79. Associazione di volontariato Ohana
  80. Associazione "Leggere per..."
  81. Comitato Fermiamo la guerra Firenze
  82. Casa Simonetta
  83. Donne in Nero, Napoli
  84. Refugees Welcome Genova 
  85. Rete Antirazzista Catanese
  86. Arci servizio civile Vicenza
  87. Biblioteca delle Donne Bruzie
  88. Oltre il Ponte APS ETS
  89. Associazione Culturale Ricreativa A. Gramsci (ACRAG)
  91. Organizzazione di Volontariato Casa di Amadou
  93. Lungo la Rotta Balcanica - Along the Balkan Route
  94. Tavolo Comunità Accoglienti- Venezia
  95. Digiuno di Giustizia in Solidarietà con i Migranti- Bari
  96. C.I.S.M. Spinea ODV (Coordinamento Immigrati del Sud del Mondo)

Individual subscriptions

  1. Cassarino Jean-Pierre
  2. Roberto Giancarlo Di Cagno
  3. Isa Zizza
  4. Stefano Pasta
  5. Ruggiero Francavilla 
  6. Maria Matarazzo
  7. Agostino Cinquepalmi
  8. Marzia Pontone
  9. Ibrahim Muhammad Mukhtar Esq.
  10. Avvocato Gianluca Vitale
  11. Fumagalli Amalia
  12. Salah El-Marghani 
  13. Paolini Monica
  14. Bongrazio Maria Grazia
  15. Cirillo Vanessa
  16. Decina Silvia
  17. Achelaritei Dorina
  18. Bertoli Fabrizio
  19. Tondo Giorgio
  20. Contegiacomo Caterina
  21. Ianniello Caterina
  22. Santovito Pietro
  23. Giampaoletti Marcello
  24. Mattone Fantini Riccardo
  25. Roberto Pollo
  26. Serena Sardi 
  27. Rodelli Caterina
  28. Patrizia Iansa
  29. Lidia Parma 
  30. Iuorio Aurora 
  31. Marco Giunti
  32. Tonini Alberto
  33. John Mpaliza
  34. Moroni Sheyla
  35. Petrolati Emanuela 
  36. Erminia Romano
  37. Giorgia Palombi
  38. Cinthia Grossi
  39. Sonia Inzoli
  40. Rafanelli Paola
  41. Rosita Russo
  42. Susanna Poole
  43. Neri Cristina
  44. Kola Ermira 
  45. Simonato Micol
  46. Zanella Mauro Carlo
  47. Luca Trivellone
  48. Di Bonaventura Emanuele
  49. Valeria Rigotti
  50. Molteni Olivia
  51. Emanuela Tagliabue
  52. Pietropoli Antonella
  53. Peruffo Beatrice
  54. Dal Lago Giuseppina
  55. Marlène Micheloni
  56. Ginevra Battistini
  57. Rebeggiani Silvia
  58. Valentina Dovigo
  59. Greta Orsenigo
  60. Privitera Manuela 
  61. Suriano Gabriele
  62. Picotti Stefano
  63. Cazzavillan Anna
  64. Adami Valentina
  65. Lucia Tomba
  66. Ortolan Giuliana
  67. Noemi Filosi
  68. Consoli Corrado
  69. Andrea Corso
  70. Consolaro Paolo
  71. Volonté Cecilia
  72. Marrone Irene
  73. Johanès Si Mohand
  74. Rugle, Karolina
  75. Virtù Caterina 
  76. Antonino Stinà
  77. Eriselda Shkopi

Image: European Space Agency, CC BY-SA 2.0

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