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Council of Europe urges Italy to halt cooperation with Libya

ROME (AP) — The Council of Europe is urging Italy to suspend its cooperation with the Libyan coast guard, saying migrants who are picked up at sea and returned to Libya face serious human rights violations in its wretched detention centers.

The council’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, acknowledged in a Feb. 13 letter that Italy had proposed new terms to a 2017 migration agreement with Libya that contain more provisions to guarantee migrants' rights are respected.

But given there is no indication if or when those provisions will be implemented, Italy should suspend its support of the Libyan coast guard altogether, Mijatovic wrote. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio acknowledged “there is room for improvement” to the 2017 accord. But he insisted that Italy’s engagement with the Libyan authorities had saved lives, with the number of deaths along the central Mediterranean route falling from an estimated 2,853 in 2017 to 743 last year.

“Figures as such tell us that we have to keep working along this direction, rather than disengaging from the country,” he wrote in a response Feb. 20. The exchange of letters was released Friday by Mijatovic's office.

Italy for years has been criticized internationally for its support of the Libyan coast guard, which has involved the provision of patrol boats and training of its crews. Human rights groups have documented widespread abuses in Libyan detention camps where returning migrants are taken, including torture and rape.

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