Originally posted August 2010

This chapter investigates how Italy has dealt with the readmission of unauthorized migrants in the framework of its bilateral relations with North African Mediterranean countries (henceforth “NAMCs”). This refers not only to removals from Italy but also to 1) removals carried out by North African countries on behalf of Italy, 2) removals carried out by NAMCs with the financial and technical support of Italy, 3) removals carried out by NAMCs as a result of Italian pressure, and 4) “push-back” operations aimed at intercepting migrants on the high seas and returning them to North African source countries.

A Plurality of Cooperative Frameworks on Readmission

To date, Italy has signed several types of agreements dealing with the readmission of third-country nationals with Morocco (1998), Tunisia (1998), Algeria (2000), and Egypt (2007). No standard readmission agreement has been concluded so far with Libya (see Table 2).

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of Italian formal and informal readmission agreements, comprehensive data are needed. These include data on readmitting countries as well as on the nationalities of the migrants removed by the Italian law-enforcement agencies. Such data refer to both refusals at the border (or immediately after border crossing) and removals from Italian territory (including not only the total number of removal orders but also the number of effected removals). However, figures provided by Italian authorities are scarce or incomplete, and no detailed data on the last few years are available.

Some available data are presented in Tables 3, 4 and 5. Table 3 is based on official data[1] that only refer to the number of effective removals compared with the total number of apprehended unauthorized migrants. These figures provide an overview of the effectiveness of readmission procedures with countries of origin. Table 4 is based on data reported by Caritas/Migrantes.[2] It has to be said that the data reported in Table 4 contrast with those reported in Table 3.[3] Table 5 is based on data of the Italian institution responsible for the audit of the state budget’s management[4] and shows the effectiveness rate of detention for the purpose of expulsion.

In Italy, undocumented migrants cannot be readmitted or removed to a third country without the prior issuance of a travel document delivered by the consular authorities of the third country. If the redocumentation process cannot take place during the maximum period of detention, by law the migrant must be released. S/he is ordered to leave the country within five days, but most of these migrants probably remain irregularly. Italian Minister of Interior, Roberto Maroni, claimed that only 1,640 out of 4,474 detained migrants could be repatriated from January to April 2009, due to insufficient time to redocument them. In 2002, the maximum duration of detention was extended from thirty to sixty days. In order to speed up the redocumentation process, which requires cooperation with third-country authorities, the then-Prodi government (2006−2008) offered countries of origin technical assistance (e.g., computerized database systems for identity checks). In 2009, the Berlusconi government extended the maximum duration of detention from 60 to 180 days.

Next, let us examine the main agreements and patterns of cooperation on readmission and removals with reference to each North African Mediterranean country.


Italy and Morocco signed a readmission agreement in July 1998 which has not yet been ratified. Nonetheless, removals from Italy have been carried out de facto since then, leading to an increase in the number of removed Moroccan nationals following the signature of the agreement.[5] However, the effectiveness of the agreement never met the expectations of the Italian authorities owing to the slow redocumentation process of unauthorized migrants. Read moreover, the Moroccan authorities lack an efficient computerized system for fingerprinting identification and can readmit just a small number of redocumented nationals at a time.

Because Morocco is not a last transit country for migrants en route to Italy, the readmission of third-country nationals from Italy (as well as the removal of third-country nationals from Morocco to its neighboring African countries) has had little importance in the relationships between the two countries.


Tunisia and Italy signed an agreement on both readmission and police cooperation in August 1998. The contracting parties committed to readmitting their own nationals as well as third-country nationals (with the exception of the nationals of the Arab Maghreb Union) who transited from their respective national territories. The agreement entered into force on September 23, 1999.

Since July 2000, joint border control operations have been coordinated by a liaison officer of the Italian Ministry of Interior based in Tunis. In December 2003, a new agreement reinforced the bilateral cooperation on “the control of vessels suspected of transporting illegal migrants.” Italy and Tunisia also decided to set up liaison offices in both countries.[6]

From 2003 to 2007, bilateral police cooperation between Italian and Tunisian law enforcement agencies resulted in several push-back operations carried out in international waters.[7] No information about the nationality of the removed migrants is available, raising concerns about 1) the ways in which asylum claims have been processed by the authorities and 2) about respect for the principle of non-refoulement.

Over 40,000 persons from over 50 countries (Tunisian nationals accounted for 30% of the total) were apprehended while trying to enter or leave Tunisia irregularly between 1998 and 2003.[8] Around 34,000 were apprehended in the following four years (from 2004 to 2007).[9] No data are available about the number and the nationalities of migrants who were actually removed from Tunisian territory. Arguably, many of them were brought from detention centers to the Saharan border and left there to their fate.[10]

Since 2004, Tunisia’s role as a last transit country has declined. Nevertheless, the number of Tunisian migrants crossing the Mediterranean (mainly from Libyan coasts) remains significant.

The relatively high effectiveness rate of the removals of Tunisians seems to have decreased as the result of increasing arrivals (see Tables 3-5). From December 2008 to February 2009, the Lampedusa-based detention center was highly overcrowded; most inmates were Tunisian migrants. In January 2009, Italy and Tunisia signed a new police cooperation agreement, aimed mainly at speeding up the identification process and at facilitating removals from Italian detention centers.


The expulsion of migrants is not a new issue in Libyan recent history. Libya has been an immigration country since oil was discovered there in the 1960s. Furthermore, migrants from both NAMCs and sub-Saharan countries were occasionally subject to collective expulsions and acts of mass violence[11] long before Libya decided to tighten migration controls in cooperation with Italy.

The continuous and systematic mass expulsions carried out since 2003 have been encouraged by Italian pressure. In 1998, the Italian government started negotiations on the joint management of migration flows. A police cooperation agreement was signed in December 2000, and an Italian investigation unit was established in Tripoli in May 2003.[12] Two months later, an executive agreement was signed, but its contents have never been made public.[13] Libyan authorities repatriated about 43,000 irregular migrants in 2003, 54,000 in 2004, and 47,991 in 2005. They were mainly nationals from sub-Saharan African countries and Egypt. Some were caught while trying to leave for Italy from Libya. Many others seemed “to have been arrested on a random basis.”[14] Until September 2004, all migrants repatriated by Libyan authorities had been apprehended on Libyan territory. Eventually, Libya agreed to readmit unauthorized migrants removed from Italy, although no standard readmission agreement has ever been signed.

In a span of sixteen months, Italy removed about 3,000 people (see Emanuela Paoletti’s chapter). Most of them were subsequently removed from Libya to neighboring countries. Removals from Libya continued even after Italy stopped removals in early 2006 as a result of strong criticisms from international institutions and NGOs. According to Frontex,[15] 53,842 expulsions were carried out in 2006, whereas around 60,000 migrants were held in Libyan detention centers in May 2007. According to the International Center for Migration Policy Development,[16] in 2006, the number of migrants deported was 86,006 and 30,940 in 2007. In January 2008, Libyan authorities announced that they would “gather all foreigners illegally residing in Libya for immediate deportation,”[17] and in 2009, while launching a regularization program for foreign workers, the Libyan authorities declared that all irregular migrants would be repatriated upon conclusion of the procedures.[18] It should be stressed that not all migrants detained in Libya are actually expelled: many of them “are left in the desert within Libyan territory” or are sold to smugglers by the Libyan police.[19] Furthermore, Libyan authorities have not repatriated Eritrean and Somali asylum seekers in recent years (as they had done until 2004); many of them are kept in Libyan detention centers for years.

Following the 2003 agreement, two memoranda of understanding on police cooperation (dated February 6, 2005 and January 18, 2006), and additional agreements were concluded by Italy and Libya. Over the past few years, several migrant boats were reaccepted by the Libyan authorities from international waters.[20] The new police cooperation agreement dated December 2007 also foresees the joint patrolling of Libyan territorial waters. However, effective implementation started only in May 2009, nine months after Italy agreed to sign the Treaty of Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation. When the treaty was ratified (in February 2009), Libya agreed to sign an executive protocol to the 2007 agreement.

May 2009 marked a watershed in Italian-Libyan relations. Not only did the joint patrolling of Libyan waters begin, but Italy also started pushing back migrants in international waters to Libya. Italian law enforcement authorities no longer expel migrants who have already arrived on Italian territory, as they had from 2004 to 2006. Today, they intercept migrants on the high seas, take them aboard, and return them to Tripoli or Zuwahra, or hand them over to Libyan patrol boats after interception.[21] According to the UNHRC (2010), would-be asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors have been forcibly removed, without prior identification and without being given the possibility of claiming for asylum. Italy seems to have acted in breach of international law. Since being expelled to Libya in May 2009, numerous Eritreans and Somalis have lodged applications with the European Court of Human Rights against Italy.[22] The European Commission requested clarifications from Italy after 70 persons (thought to be Somali and Eritrean nationals) were pushed back on August 30, 2009. Nevertheless, Italian authorities kept on removing migrants to Libya, claiming that none of them has ever expressed the wish to apply for asylum.[23]

In recent years, Libya has also signed cooperation agreements on border controls with neighboring countries, such as Chad, Niger, Sudan, and Egypt. Furthermore, at the request of Italy, Libya signed a cooperation agreement with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2005. The IOM Tripoli office has managed the 28-month Transit and Irregular Migration Management (TRIM) project, funded by the Italian government and the European Union. This project was aimed at providing unauthorized migrants living in Libya with the opportunity to return to Niger and Chad under the supervision of the UNHCR.


Italian authorities often praise Egypt as the paragon of effectiveness in the fight against unauthorized migration. In recent years, thousands of Egyptian citizens have been readmitted to Egypt from Italy, while hundreds of transit migrants have been repatriated from Egyptian territory with the support of Italian authorities.

As regards transit migration, thousands of Sri Lankan nationals entered the Red Sea and reached the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal until 2002. Forty-seven ships with 3,842 passengers aboard arrived in Calabria and Sicily in 2001 and 2002.[24] On the basis of the police cooperation agreement signed in 2000, and upon further informal agreements concluded in 2002, an Italian liaison officer was dispatched to Egypt, enabling joint control of the Suez Canal to commence. Egyptian authorities confiscated the ships. Meanwhile, between 2003 and 2004, 524 passengers were forcibly returned to Sri Lanka on planes chartered by the Italian government.

As regards the readmission of Egyptian unauthorized migrants, the cooperation was considered satisfactory by the Italian authorities as early as December 2003, although no standard readmission agreements were signed at that time.[25] The number of Egyptians arriving irregularly by sea skyrocketed from 102 (2003) to 8,782 (2004) and 10,288 (2005), and then dropped to 4,478 in 2006. Until 2005, Egyptians had traveled first to Libya, and from there headed to Italy.[26] Entry restrictions and increased controls over Libyan borderlands generated an increase in the number of Egyptians leaving directly from Egyptian territory to reach Italy (i.e., without transiting through Libya).

In 2004 and 2005 many Egyptians were removed from Italy to Libya (their last transit country) and then from Libya to Egypt, whereas others were repatriated directly from Italy to Egypt. Data on the actual number of readmitted Egyptian nationals are scarce (see Tables 3 and 4). Hundreds of Egyptians were repatriated every year in the framework of bilateral police cooperation agreements. Cooperation with Egypt was considered “excellent” by the Italian authorities.[27] After Italy stopped deportations to Libya in 2006, Egyptians were repatriated directly from Italy to their home country. Egyptian police officers cooperated with their Italian counterparts on repatriation to organize charter flights.

In January 2007, Italy became the first EU Member State to sign a standard readmission agreement with Egypt. The treaty came into force on April 25, 2008. It foresees the readmission of the nationals of the contracting parties as well as the removal of third-country nationals.


The readmission of unauthorized Algerian nationals from Italy has been carried out for many years, although the effectiveness rate has been very low (see Tables 3-5). When Sardinia became a new landing point for an increasing number of migrants arriving from Algeria (see Table 1), Italy started (in 2000) to exert more pressure on Algeria to ratify a readmission agreement. This agreement entered into force on October 14, 2006. Given that unauthorized migration from Algeria to Italy has never gained momentum, thus far readmission has not been an issue of high politics in the bilateral relationship between Italy and Algeria.[28]

In recent years, Algerian authorities have also reinforced the surveillance system of their maritime borders with a view toward intercepting boats en route to Italy and pushing back migrants to Algeria. It is uncertain whether such operations have been carried out in Algerian or in international waters. In June 2009, Algerian and Italian authorities initiated joint patrolling operations. On June 14, 2009, the Italian Guardia di Finanza and the Algerian navy intercepted a boat off the Algerian coast carrying with 150 migrants who were then sent back to Algeria.

In July 2009, Italy and Algeria signed a new agreement aimed at strengthening police cooperation through training programs and exchange of information.

Incentives and Rewards

Not only do NAMCs lack the necessary resources to tackle irregular migration effectively but they often lack willingness to cooperate on this issue. As mentioned in the introductory chapter of this volume, their unwillingness to cooperate in the long term stems from the fact that Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt have viewed migration as a safety valve to relieve pressure on domestic unemployment and as a source of external revenues for their respective economies. Nor do countries of transit have a stake in curbing irregular migration, for they too benefit from transit migration flows, whether these are legal or not.

Additionally, NAMCs may be reluctant to jeopardize their relations with neighboring countries by closing borders. This assumption applies particularly to Libya. Importantly, all NAMCs should not be viewed simply as emigration and transit countries. They are also destination countries de facto. Libya has been a destination country since the 1960s, whereas Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt have become immigration countries over the last decade.[29] The demand for cheap foreign labor in NAMCs may increase in the near future.[30]

Strong incentives had to be put forward in order to ensure the effective cooperation of NAMCs. These became all the more necessary as some NAMCs became aware of the conditions under which they could capitalize on the bilateral cooperation with their European neighbors. Incentives include various types of compensatory measures that are analyzed below.

Entry quotas

Legal immigration to Italy is regulated within the framework of a yearly quota system setting a ceiling to legal entries of foreign workers.[31] In 1998, the Italian center-left government decided to use entry quotas to exert leverage on major source countries. Since then, on a yearly basis, the government has fixed the maximum number of foreigners allowed to enter the Italian labor market. Shares of this quota system can be specifically reserved to nationals of cooperative third countries. The remaining shares are open to nationals of any third country.

Egypt obtained from Italian authorities a reserved share in October 2002, as a result of its decision to become more cooperative in the field of migration controls in the Suez Canal. The Italian government issued a decree rewarding Egypt with a share of 1,000 legal immigrants — 10% of the whole share granted to single countries. After Egypt cooperated on the readmission of Egyptian nationals from Italy in 2004 and 2005 (although no standard readmission agreement already existed at that time), the reserved share was further increased in 2005 and 2006, reaching the maximum amount ever allocated to a single country (7,000 legal entries). After the conclusion of its bilateral standard readmission agreement with Italy, the 2007 decree increased Egypt’s share to the record number of 8,000.

Morocco and Tunisia are no exception to the entry quota system promoted by Italy. As a result of the conclusion of its bilateral readmission agreement on 6 August 1998, Tunisia benefited from a preferential treatment in terms of entry quotas for its own nationals. Italy reserved 1,500 entry visas for Tunisian workers. During the same period, Morocco was also granted a reserved share to reward its cooperation on readmission.

Entry quotas could be viewed as indicators of the effective implementation of bilateral readmission agreements, for their shares have varied substantially over time. For instance, the Moroccan reserved share was halved in 2001, because the Italian government deemed the cooperation to be insufficient. In 2001, the provisions of the 1998 agreement regarding police equipment to be supplied from Italy to the Tunisian border police expired. Irregular arrivals from Tunisia started to increase. The reserved share for Tunisian citizens, which initially increased from 1,500 to 3,000, dropped to 2,000 (2002) and then to only 600 (2003). Later, a new Italian-Tunisian police cooperation agreement was signed on December 13, 2003, after Italy promised to increase the 2004 reserved share for Tunisian migrant workers. Six days after its conclusion, the Italian government increased the Tunisian share to 3,000 entry visas.

Algerian citizens were also granted a reserved share. The reserved share was not only a way of rewarding the ratification of the readmission agreement by Algeria in October 2006, but also an incentive to improve or ensure the effective bilateral cooperation in the field of readmission.

Clearly, as Libya is not an emigration country, such forms of incentives were not considered in the bargaining process to ensure the cooperation of the Libyan authorities. However, to reward Libya’s reinforced cooperation, Italy granted a reserved share for Libyan nationals in 2010 amounting to 1,000 entry visas.

Conditional development aid

Development cooperation with Morocco and Algeria was resumed in 1998 (when the Italian-Moroccan readmission agreement was signed) and in 1999 (when the Italian-Algerian police cooperation agreement was signed) respectively. Italy and Egypt signed a debt swap agreement in February 2001, i.e.,, eight months following the conclusion of a bilateral police cooperation agreement. Consequently, the number of Italian development cooperation projects in Egypt has substantially increased.

The way in which Italy has conditionally linked development aid with the cooperation on readmission is quite emblematic in the case of Tunisia. In 1992-1993, Tunisia was at the sixth place in the list of the major recipients of Italy’s official development assistance (ODA). A few years later, when migrant boats started to arrive to Sicily, Tunisia was downgraded in the above list.

Italian ODA granted to Tunisia is determined by a joint Italian-Tunisian commission. From 1991 to 1998, the commission did not meet once.[32] However, on August 3-5, 1998, the commission resumed its works and established a new program offering Tunisia €108.44 million loans and €3.31 million grants for the period 1999−2001. The resumption of talks preceded the conclusion of the bilateral readmission agreement on August 6, 1998. Later, another €33 million loan and a €7.23 million grant were added, reaching a total amount of about €152 million. In 2001, the joint commission allocated €36.5 million loans and €71.75 million grants for the period 2002−2004, €6.42 million.

In 2004, the same commission allocated substantial financial resources (€179 million loans and €2.98 million grants) for the 2005−2007 period following the signature of the December 2003 police cooperation agreement.

There is no question that such financial incentives were conditionally linked with Tunisia’s acceptance to take part in reinforced border and migration control in cooperation with Italy. This conditionality was not only conducive to the conclusion of the 1998 readmission agreements (based on a verbal note dated 1998) and of the 2003 police cooperation agreement. It may also have induced Tunisia to join the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 1999 and to authorize the establishment of its Tunis-based office in 2001. Since its creation, the IOM office has developed projects co-financed by Italian public funds in such areas as the management of legal migration, economic development of Tunisian regions with high emigration rate, and the reinforced management of transit and irregular migration in Tunisia.

It has to be said that, since 2002, the need to tie development aid with bilateral cooperation on migration management gained further momentum when the Italian government voted in September 2002 a legal provision (law 189/2002) aimed at conditionally linking development assistance with effective cooperation on the fight against unauthorized migration. Cooperation and aid programmes are subject to reassessment if the relevant countries do not adopt appropriate measures.[33]

As far as the use of development aid is concerned, the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD called on Italy to further untie its assistance to Tunisia arguing that “moves towards a revision of Italy’s untying policy to bring it in line with best practice at international level would undoubtedly add to the donor community’s joint efforts towards a greater effectiveness of aid.”[34]

Technical assistance, financial assistance and training

The Italian Ministry of Interior has supplied the law enforcement agencies of NAMCs with technical equipment and offered training programs for their border police officials. Furthermore, Italy has granted financial aid for “return flights,” and it has built (or offered its financial contribution for the building of) centers for the management of irregular migration flows.

Egyptian police officers have been offered training programs since 2004. Most of the activities took place in Italy. Furthermore, Egyptian police have been equipped with technical instruments for the detection of forged documents and with maritime vehicles to patrol maritime borders. A new patrol boat was handed over to Egyptian authorities after the signature of the January 2007 readmission agreement.

In 1998, Italy provided Tunisia with €20.7 million in technical equipment for the three-year period 1999−2001. The 1998 agreement also stated that the Italian government would contribute €260,000 to “the establishment of detention centers in Tunisia” in order to foster the repatriation of foreign migrants removed from Italy. This was the only provision of the agreement that Tunisia did not accept in the end, probably fearing Italian interferences in domestic questions such as the management of detention centers (including detention conditions) and the expulsion of migrants.

After the expiration of the 1998 agreement, a further €12.5 million worth equipment was supplied in 2002 and 2003 through development assistance. Further assistance to Tunisia (including training programs and technical equipment) was agreed upon by a meeting of experts held in Tunis in February 2007.

The Italian government has been providing training courses for Libyan border officers since 2004. From August 2003 to December 2004, Italy supplied Libyan authorities with technical equipment including night-vision devices, binoculars, all terrain vehicles (ATV), mattresses and blankets, life boats, and sacks for the transportation of corpses. During the same period Italy paid 50 charter flights to remove 5,688 individuals from Libya to ten different countries.[35] No detailed information regarding the granting of technical equipment is available for the period 2005-2006, but on February 6, 2005 a memorandum was signed in Tripoli: Italy promised appropriate supply to Libyan authorities for the implementation of a reinforced border control system.

Italy also decided to finance the construction of three detention centers in Libya: between 2004 and 2005 €6.6 million were allocated for a center in Gharyan and €5.2 million for a center in Kufra, while another detention center was expected to be built in Sebha.[36] Following the election of the center-left Prodi government, the Italian authorities decided to change the use of the above centers. The center of Gharyan was opened in June 2007 as a training center for Libyan police officers, whereas the Kufra center was renamed as a border medical center, and the construction of the detention center in Sebha was given up.[37] However, for sovereignty reasons, the Prodi government made clear that the Libyan authorities would decide how to use the centers de facto.

In 2007, Italy supplied Libya with instruments for the detection of forged documents, five GPS-equipped ATVs, seven computers and seven satellite communication systems, as well as six patrol boats for use by Libyan border officers. The implementation of the 2007 agreement (providing for the creation of joint border patrols) was contingent on the conclusion of a Treaty of Friendship, Partnership, and Cooperation dated August 2008 and ratified by the Italian parliament in February 2009. The main provisions contained in the treaty are described below. It has to be stressed that Italy is the only EU Member State that managed to implement cooperative projects (co-financed by the EU) in Libya.

Apart from the abovementioned TRIM project, the Italian Ministry of Interior has also contributed, with IOM, to another project aimed controlling borders named “Across Sahara,” by offering training programs to the Libyan police forces. When the project was initially carried out from December 2005 to December 2007, it predominantly promoted cooperative programs with Niger. Since 2007, it is aimed at promoting border cooperation with Algeria.

Other projects, funded by the European Union, were approved to support the management of Libya’s southern borders (“Prevention of irregular migration at Libya’s Southern borders” and “Management of irregular migration pressures in Libya”). The first project is aimed at improving the overall capacity of Libyan law-enforcement authorities, whereas the second fosters “the establishment of a system of assisted voluntary return … and of resettlement.”[38] Finally, an additional EU-funded project called “Strengthening the capacity of Libyan authorities to prevent and manage irregular migration” has been launched. It is aimed at supporting legal, institutional and administrative reforms in Libya in order to improve the country’s capacity to manage its land and sea borders and to better deal with “irregular migrants stranded in the desert or at sea.”[39] Italy will hold the leadership of the project and will receive €4.5 million from the EU.

Political support and trade partnership

During the late 1980s, and as result of the embargo imposed on Libya by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, the Gadhafi regime became politically isolated. It oriented its influence to African with a view to consolidating new strategic alliances. This orientation was based on pan-African open-door policies towards sub-Saharan migrants, although Tunisian and Egyptian nationals remained subjected to occasional restrictive measures on the part of the Libyan regime. Later, Gadhafi opted for a policy of reconciliation with Western countries in order to counter the risks of American raids on his country and to claim the lifting of the embargos.

The possibility of cooperating on the fight against irregular migration soon became a factor of which the Libyan regime could take advantage in order to exert certain leverage on its European neighbors in order to induce them to contribute to the lifting of the embargos. Such leverage became perceptible in its interaction with Italy. Gadhafi was suspected of voluntarily regulating the intensity of unauthorized migration flows to Europe by alternatively tightening and easing border controls.

Vice-versa Italy and the EU tried to make the lifting of European sanctions conditionally linked with Libya’s willingness to combat irregular transit migration. In particular, Italy played a key role as mediator between Libya and the other Member States. In exchange for a reinforced Libyan involvement in the fight against irregular migration, Italy offered not only financial and logistical assistance, but also began to express support for the lifting of all sanctions against Libya.

When the first bilateral police cooperation agreement was concluded in December 2000, Italy intensified its diplomatic efforts to rehabilitate the Libyan regime into the international community.

Libya’s cooperation on migration and border controls constituted only one of the other factors that led to the lifting of the embargo by the EU. Whereas the lifting of the UN and US sanctions against Libya was motivated by different factors,[40] the EU embargo was lifted when, in October 2004, Libya agreed for the first time to readmit unauthorized aliens from Italy.[41]

The gradual lifting of the sanctions against Libya was accompanied by a rapprochement with the West. In turn, this process has gradually reconfigured Libya’s relations with its African neighbors, especially following its acceptance to reinforce the control of its southern borders.

It is noteworthy that the previously mentioned rapprochement occurred against the backdrop of repeated compensation claims by Libya against Italy stemming from the colonial period (1911-1943).

In 1998, the Italian government apologized for the atrocities committed by the former colonial regime in Libya and promised compensation. Libya not only requested the construction of a coastal highway as an initial compensatory measure, but conditioned the reinforcement of its police cooperation with Italy on a formal commitment by the Italian government to build the highway. Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Massimo D’Alema (on November 10, 2007 in Tripoli) and Prime Minister Romano Prodi (on December 9, 2007 in Lisbon) expressed this commitment, which was cemented by the signing of the August 2008 Treaty of Friendship, Partnership, and Cooperation.[42]

The treaty also foresees the strengthening of bilateral economic cooperation. Here it should be mentioned that Italian-Libyan relations have long been characterized by strong economic interests. When the embargo was enforced, Italy remained Libya’s major trade partner. Read more recently, in 2004, following the visit of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to Mellitah (Libya), the biggest Mediterranean gas pipeline was opened to channel methane to Italy. The pipeline was built by the Italian public-owned oil company Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI), which is the exclusive partner of the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC), and manages the Mellitah extraction plant. ENI is expected to invest $14 billion over the next ten years in the extraction of gas and oil in Libya. Its exclusive concession rights will not expire until 2047.

Italy has developed strong economic ties with all of the North African countries. Italy is Egypt’s leading trade partner and one of the major trade partners of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Given the lack of transparency that surrounds the bilateral negotiations of agreements linked to readmission, it is difficult to ascertain whether there is a clear-cut cause-and-effect relationship between preferential trade concessions and cooperation on readmission. Nonetheless, one is tempted to think that these concessions may have had an impact on NAMCs’ motivations to cooperate with Italy on the reinforced control of migration and borders, just as they may also have had a bearing on the way in which the bilateral cooperation has been configured to date. Thus the issue of readmission, and particularly states’ propensity to cooperate at bilateral level, cannot be analyzed and understood without referring to a broader framework of interaction.


For many years, NAMCs have cooperated with Italy on readmission while contributing to the establishment and expansion of a network aimed at regulating human movements in the Mediterranean. Whereas removals of unauthorized aliens to Libya (involving third-country nationals) were carried out for only sixteen months between 2004 and 2006, and were resumed in May 2009, removals to the other NAMCs (which applied predominantly to their own nationals) have never been interrupted, despite their having a low and erratic effectiveness rate, as reported on Table 3.

This chapter shows that the patterns of cooperation linked to readmission that Italy has developed over the last decade or so have become highly diverse. Cooperation is not only limited to the removal of unauthorized aliens from Italy, but also includes operations aimed at expelling aliens from the territories of NAMCs to other African source countries. It also encompasses operations aimed at pushing migrants from international waters back to NAMCs’ territories.

In the same vein, the variety of patterns of cooperation linked to readmission is reflective of the fact that, for Italy, “the operability of the cooperation on readmission has been prioritized over its formalization,” as mentioned by Jean-Pierre Cassarino in the introductory chapter. Read moreover, it is perhaps for this reason that, despite low effectiveness rates, cooperation on readmission is and will continue to be viewed by the Italian authorities as a top priority, whether the bilateral pattern of cooperation is based on standard agreements or not.

Finally, the study shows that the responsiveness of NAMCs to Italy’s call for enhanced cooperation in the field of migration and border controls was not only motivated by expected benefits or compensations, but also by the fact that the bilateral interaction has been embedded in a broader framework of interconnectedness on which some NAMCs have successfully capitalized.[43] Libya, as shown in the next chapter written by Emanuela Paoletti, is a case in point.


[1]. Ministry of the Interior, “The Status of Security in Italy” (Rome: 2007)

[2]. Caritas/Migrantes, Immigrazione. Dossier statistico 2004 [Immigration. Statistical Dossier 2004], XIV Rapporto (Rome: Idos, 2004).

[3]. Lorenzo Coslovi and Flavia Piperno, “Forced Return and Then? Analysis of the Impact of the Expulsion of Different Categories of Migrants: A Comparative Study of Albania, Morocco and Nigeria,” Centro Studidi Politica Internazionale Working Papers, No. 13 (2005) and Projet Mirem, report figures which differ from both the aforementioned. Coslovi and Piperno report figures related only to Morocco, while Projet Mirem reports figures regarding Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

[4]. Corte dei Conti [Court of Auditors], “Relazione sul rendiconto generale dello Stato per l’esercizio finanziario 2004” [General Report on Fiscal Year 2004) Volume II, t. II (Rome: Corte dei Conti, 2005], p. 73, .

[5]. Coslovi and Piperno, “Forced Return and Then? Analysis of the Impact of the Expulsion of Different Categories of Migrants: A Comparative Study of Albania, Morocco and Nigeria,” p. 21.

[6]. Alessandro Pansa, “L’esperienza italiana nel contesto internazionale” [“The Italian Experience in the International Context”], Convegno Internazionale per l’analisi dei procedimenti penali tenuti in Italia sulla tratta di persone (Rome: Scuola Superiore Amministrazione dell’Interno, 2004).

[7]. Paolo Cuttitta, “Il controllo dell’immigrazione tra Nordafrica e Italia” [“Migration Control Between Northern African Countries and Italy”] in Libro Bianco: I centri di permanenza temporanea e assistenza in Italia [White Paper: Detention Centers in Italy], Comitato per la promozione e la protezione dei diritti umani [Committee for the Promotion and Protection of Human rights], ; Paolo Cuttitta, “The Changes in the Fight Against Illegal Immigration in the Euro-Mediterranean Area and in Euro-Mediterranean Relations,” CHALLENGE Working Paper Month 24 (Brussels: Center for European Policy Studies, 2007), ; Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, “Obblighi di protezione e controllo delle frontiere marittime” [“Protection Norms and Sea Border Controls”] Diritto immigrazione e cittadinanza [Immigration and Citizenship Law], Vol. 9, No. 3 (2007), pp. 13-33; Ansa, “Immigrazione. Risolta vicenda peschereccio dirottato” [“Immigration: The Trawler Case is Solved”] July 19, 2007; Ansa, “Immigrazione: via a pattugliamento frontex tra Malta e Libia” [“Immigration: Green Light to Frontex Patrols Between Malta and Libya”], June 25, 2007.

[8]. Hassan Boubakri, “Transit Migration Between Tunisia, Libya and Sub-Saharan Africa: Study Based on Greater Tunis,” Proceedings of the Regional Conference on “Migrants in Transit Countries: Sharing Responsibility for Management and Protection” (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2004), p. 92.

[9]. Hassan Boubakri (private communication).

[10]. Cuttitta, “Il controllo dell’immigrazione tra Nordafrica e Italia,” [“Migration Control between Northern African Countries and Italy”], p. 183, .

[11]. Olivier Pliez, “ De l’Immigration au Transit? La Libye dans l’Espace Migratoire Euro-Africain” [“ Transit of Immigration? Libya in the Euro-African Migratory Space”], in Olivier Pliez, ed., La Nouvelle Libye: Sociétés, Espaces et Géopolitique au Lendemain de l’Embargo [The New Libya: Society, Space and Geopolitics in the Aftermath of the Embargo”] (Paris: Karthala, 2004), pp. 139-155.

[12]. On September 12, 2006 in Rome the Libyan and Italian governments agreed that a liaison officer of the Libyan ministry of interior would be dispatched to Rome.

[13]. The Italian minister of interior Pisanu declared that making public the contents of the agreement “would heavily damage its operability and effectiveness” (Camera dei Deputati 2003c).

[14]. European Commission, Technical Mission to Libya on Illegal Migration, November 27 –December 6, 2004 Report, No. 7753/05 (Brussels: European Commission, 2005), .

[15]. Frontex, “Frontex-Led EU Illegal Immigration Mission to Libya May 28-June 5, 2007” (Warsaw: Frontex, 2007), p. 10, .

[16]. International Centre for Migration Policy Development, “Gaps & Needs Analysis Project Country Reports: Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya” (Vienna: 2008), p. 94.

[17]. Jamahiriya News Agency: “Gathering foreigners illegally residing in Libya for immediate deportation,” January 16, 2008.  .

[18]. Lorenzo Coslovi, “La regolarizzazione in Libia: verso una migliore gestione delle migrazioni?” [“Regularized Migrants: Towards Better Migration Management”], Centro Studidi Politica Internazionale, No. 7 (2009), p. 5.

[19]. Human Rights Watch, Pushed Back Pushed Around: Italy’s Forced Return of Boat Migrants and Asylum Seekers, Libya’s Mistreatment of Migrants and Asylum Seekers (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2009), pp. 15, 70-73.

[20]. Fortress Europe, “Escape From Tripoli, Report on the Conditions of Migrants in Transit in Libya” (2007),  .

[21]. According to vice-minister of Interior, Alfredo Mantovano, eight operations were carried out and 757 migrants were pushed back from international waters to Libya from May 5 to August 30, See “Mantovano: 757 i respingimenti” [“Minister Mantovano: 757 Removed Migrants”], Ansa, September 22, 2009). Fortress Europe (2009) numbered, however, nine operations of this kind involving 898 persons during the same period.

[22]. Hirsi and Others vs. Italy (Application No. 27765/09), see UNHCR (2010).

[23]. Council of Europe (2010), “Report to the Italian Government on the visit to Italy carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 27 to 31 July 2009,” CPT/Inf (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, April 28, 2010), ; Council of Europe, “Response of the Italian government to the report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) on its visit to Italy from 27 to 31 July 2009,” CPT/Inf (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, April 28, 2010), .

[24]. Alessandro Pansa, “L’esperienza italiana nel contesto internazionale” [“The Italian Experience in the International Context”], Convegno Internazionale per l’analisi dei procedimenti penali tenuti in Italia sulla tratta di persone [International Conference on the Analysis of Italian Legal Procedures Related to Human Trafficking], Scuola Superiore Amministrazione dell’Interno, Rome, 2004; Alessandro Pansa, “Le Proposte Del Governo Italiano A Livello Comunitario in Materia Di Immigrazione” [“The Proposals of the Italian Government out forward at an EU level on Migration Issues”], Convegno SIDI “le migrazioni: una sfida per il diritto internazionale, comunitario e interno” [SIDI Conference on “Migration: A Challenge for Internatiaional, Community and National Laws”], Scuola Superiore Amministrazione dell’Interno, Rome, 2004), .

[25]. Chamber of Deputies, “Audizione del Direttore centrale dell’immigrazione e della Polizia delle frontiere del Ministero dell’interno, prefetto Alessandro Pansa” [“Hearing of the Director of Immigration and Border Agency of the Ministry of the Interior”], Seduta del 3/12/2003 [December 3, 2003 Session], 2003, .

[26]. Sara Hamood, “African Transit Migration Through Libya to Europe: The Human Cost,” Forced Migration and Refugees Studies (Cairo: The American University In Cairo, 2006), pp. 26, 63-64, .

[27]. Italian Embassy in Cairo, “La cooperazione tra i ministeri dell’interno italiano ed egiziano, Nota informativa,” [“Cooperation between the Italian and Egyptian Ministries of the Interior: Note”], October 9, 2007.

[28]. From 2000 to September 2007, about 40,000 foreigners were apprehended and 27,567 were expelled by the Algerian authorities, see Fortress Europe and Aracem, Effetti collaterali. Rapporto sulle condizioni dei migranti di transito in Algeria [Side Effects: report on the Conditions of Transit Migrants in Algeria](2007),

[29]. North Africa has become a large migration area characterized by different migration patterns that cannot be reduced to the notion of “transit migration.” See Salvatore Palidda, “Le nuove migrazioni verso i paesi del nord-Africa e verso l’Europa” [“New Migration Flows towards North African Countries and Europe”], in ISMU. Nono Rapporto sulle migrazioni [Ninth Migration Report] (Milan: Angeli, 2003). See also Frank Düvell, “Crossing the fringes of Europe. Transit migration in the EU’s neighbourhood,” Working Paper No. 33 (Oxford: University of Oxford, Center on Migration, Policy and Society 2006).

[30]. Hein De Haas, “The Myth of Invasion: Irregular Migration from West Africa to the Maghreb and the European Union,” Research Report (Oxford:InternationalMigration Institute, 2007), .

[31]. Paolo Cuttitta, “Yearly Quotas and Country-reserved Shares in Italian Immigration Policy,” Migration Letters 5, No. 1 (2008), pp. 41-51.

[32]. All Italian development cooperation projects were subject to cuts after 1992, but Tunisia was the most affected.

[33]. Read more recently, the principle of conditional development cooperation was confirmed by article 13 of law 69/2009.

[34]. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “2004 DAC Peer Review of Italy” (Paris: OECD, 2004), pp. 38, 54, 58, .

[35]. European Commission, “Technical Mission to Libya on Illegal Migration 27 November – 6 December 2004,” Report 7753/05 (Brussels: European Commission, 2005), pp. 59-61, .

[36]. European Commission Report (2005), pp. 59; Corte dei Conti [Court of Auditors], “Relazione sul rendiconto generale dello Stato per l’esercizio finanziario 2005” [“Report on the State General Account for Fiscal Year 2005], Volume II, t. II, (Rome: Corte dei Conti, 2006), p. 32, ; Ministry of the Interior, “The Status of Security in Italy” (Rome: 2005), p. 43.

[37]. Chamber of Deputies (2007), “Risposta del sottosegretario Marcella Lucidi all’interpellanza urgente n. 2-00623 del 26 giugno 2007” [“Undersecretary Marcela Lucidi’s reply to urgent convocation n. 2-00623 of June 26, 2007”], Seduta del 5/7/2007 [July 5, 2007 Session], .

[38]. European Commission, “Annual Action Programme 2009 and 2010 Part 1 for the Thematic Programme of Cooperation with Third Countries in the Areas of Migration and Asylum,” 2009.

[39]. European Commission (2009).

[40]. UN sanctions were removed in September 2003, after Libya agreed to compensate the families of the victims of the attacks on a US (1988) and a French (1989) airplane. US sanctions were lifted in April 2004 when Gadhafi promised to dismantle the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

[41]. Another decisive step was Libya’s decision, dated September 2004, to compensate for the 1986 bomb attack in a disco in Berlin.

[42]. On the basis of this wide-ranging treaty, both countries agreed that Italy — or rather Italian private companies in the building sector — would build infrastructure in Libya in the amount of $5 billion ($250 million each year over a 20-year period).

[43]. Jean-Pierre Cassarino, “Migration and Border Management in the Euro-Mediterranean Area: Heading towards New Forms of Interconnectedness,” in Med.2005 Mediterranean Yearbook (Barcelona: Institut Europeu de la Mediterrània/Centro de Etudios y Documentación Internacional de Barcelona, 2005), pp. 227-231; Jean-Pierre Cassarino, “Informalising Readmission Agreements in the EU Neighbourhood,” The International Spectator, Vol. 42, No. 2 (2007), pp. 179-196; Hein De Haas, “The Myth of Invasion: Irregular Migration from West Africa to the Maghreb and the European Union.”