Bye-Bye, Gaddafi: How Italy Will Profit from the New Libyan Regime

My piece on Italy’s post-Gaddafi maneuvering has just been published in Time.

If one of the first casualties of the six-month-old uprising in Libya was Italy’s relationship with Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, one of the first dividends of its conclusion could be renewed ties between Rome and whoever replaces the fallen dictator. Even as gunshots continued to ring out in the streets of Tripoli, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was on the phone with Mahmoud Gebril, Prime Minister of the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council (NTC), congratulating him on the rebels’ rapid advance on the Libyan capital, promising him Italian support and warmly inviting him for a visit. “The National Transitional Council and all the combatants involved in Tripoli are realizing their aspiration for a new, united, democratic Libya,” Berlusconi said in a statement. “The Italian government is at their side.”

The last time a Libyan leader visited Italy, he took an entourage of hundreds of people and pitched a tent in the grounds of one Rome’s historic villas. As long as Gaddafi ruled Libya, Berlusconi was bent on pleasing him. Before fighting broke out in February, Libya was Italy’s largest provider of oil and gas, providing roughly a third of Italy’s oil production to the country. Gaddafi’s government owned substantial shares of Italian companies, including 7.5% of UniCredit, the largest bank in Italy, and 7% of the Torino-based Juventus soccer club. In 2009, Gaddafi was given a seat at the table during the G-8 summit in Italy. And at one point, Berlusconi leaned down to kiss his hand.

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Hundreds More Die at Sea Fleeing North Africa for Europe

My piece on the terrible death toll from the Mediterranean immigration crisis was published in Time.

Of the more than 200 people who packed themselves onto a 40-foot boat for a dangerous journey out of Libya and across the Mediterranean earlier this week, only 51 are alive today. The rest are gone, swept into icy waters after their boat capsized during a rescue operation early Wednesday morning. The death toll is possibly the single biggest loss of life since unrest in North Africa drove thousands of migrants to flee to Europe. But it represents only a fraction of those who have died since the crossings began. Like the tip of an iceberg, Wednesday’s tragedy, which took place not far from the Italian island of Lampedusa, points to a larger problem looming underneath.

For every 25 migrants who have arrived safely in Europe, it’s likely that one didn’t make it, according to figures from advocacy group the Italian Refugee Council. Crammed onto treacherously overcrowded boats that are barely seaworthy, the passengers are given little or no food or water before being pushed off — without a compass to guide them — and pointed towards Europe. Even before this latest accident, at least 480 people have died or been lost at sea since the uprisings in Tunisia and Libya began, releasing a flood of migrants who are either taking advantage of dropped emigration barriers or fleeing the fighting and feared economic chaos. “Sadly, this number is the minimum,” says Christopher Hein, president of the Italian Refugee Council. “It includes only the ones we know about.” The number of lives lost in any given shipwreck or accident range from a few individuals to dozens at a time. The number of those lost in Wednesday’s accident — most of them sub-Saharan Africans — may have topped 250.

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Italy’s Troubling Immigration Deal with Gaddafi

Time has just published my piece on the human cost of Italy’s immigration deal with Gaddafi.

The young Eritrean woman was exhausted, famished and dehydrated after spending four days in March lost in the Mediterranean Sea. She had been on a fishing boat with nearly 300 African migrants, crammed so tightly that she couldn’t move. But when Helen saw her rescuers, she couldn’t help but feel a little worried. The last time she had seen an Italian military ship, things had not gone well.

Twenty years old and six months pregnant, Helen is one of the more than 22,000 people who have arrived in Italy by boat since unrest in Libya and Tunisia lifted restrictions on emigration, even as fighting and fear of economic chaos drove many to flee. She’s also part of another group: those who have made the dangerous, difficult journey before, only to be turned back by those they thought would be their saviors.(See exclusive photos of Libya’s rebels.)

From May 2009 until the beginning of the chaos in Libya, Italy outsourced its immigration control to Libya’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. During that time, Italian ships intercepted at least 1,000 people and returned them to Libya. Many of them likely were political refugees whom Rome had an international obligation to accept. Helen’s story and those of others interviewed by TIME last week provide a window into a European approach to immigration control in which some of the world’s most vulnerable people were sent back to a brutal dictatorship with the knowledge that they would almost certainly be mistreated.

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Fleeing Libya: Hundreds of Children Caught in Italy’s Migrant Crisis

My piece in Time on the children caught up in Italy’s migrant crisis has just been published.

Of the thousands of migrants who have arrived in Italy in recent days, fleeing poverty and unrest in North Africa, one bears special mention. Born in an overcrowded fishing boat packed with people fleeing the fighting in Libya, he was just four hours old when he and his mother arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa. “It’s a miracle,” says Tareke Brhane, a cultural mediator with Save the Children in Lampedusa. “The mother is fine. She’s doing really, really well.” The baby boy’s parents, an Ethiopian mother and Eritrean father, named him Yeabsera, Eritrean for “God’s Work.”

Yeabsera is undoubtedly the youngest person to have arrived in the wave of sudden immigration that has caught Italian authorities unprepared and threatens to spark a humanitarian crisis. But he’s not the only minor to have come to Lampedusa, a stretch of largely denuded rock tucked in a corner between Tunisia and Libya. According to Brhane, some 80 children under the age of five — mostly Somalis, Eritreans and Sudanese — have arrived by boat since Friday, joining some 300 to 400 young Tunisians, aged between 11 and 17. They are all part of the massive migrant influx sparked when turmoil in Tunisia and Libya lifted restrictions to emigration, and fighting and the fear of economic crisis pushed many to move. “Children need special protection,” says Carlotta Bellini, a child protection manager with Save the Children in Italy. “Without being formally registered, they can’t leave the island. And we are concerned that some of them might run risks of exploitation.”

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Escape from Tripoli: Surviving Libya’s ‘Tsunami’

Time has just published my story on the evacuees from Libya.

Standing inside Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport on Tuesday, Cyrus Sany, 41, was waiting to make a connection to Washington, D.C. Dressed in an untucked white-and-blue dress shirt and pale jeans, the American systems engineer had a few days’ growth of beard on his face. He flipped through the pages of his passport, which was filled with Libyan visas. He had been in Libya for his 28th time when the call came to evacuate. He was there to modernize three of the country’s ports, but his company, Delex Systems, a Virginia-based contractor, said, “Put your pencil down. Get to the airport.”

“In three days, a beautiful country with great opportunities was thrown into chaos,” Sany said. The uprising came without warning, turning the country upside down. “It was like a tsunami,” he said. “It happened in a couple of minutes. This city [the Libyan capital of Tripoli] that was alive like New York is now dead.” Shops closed up. The streets emptied. A crowded hookah bar, which Sany had patronized, was devoid of customers. “The businesses vanished,” he said. “It was like a bunch of plastic chairs and that’s it.”

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Italy’s Bad Romance: How Berlusconi Went Gaga for Gaddafi

Time has just published my story on Italy’s tight ties to Libya.

The longest underwater pipeline in the Mediterranean runs from the coast of Libya to the Italian island of Sicily. Inaugurated in 2004 by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the 323 miles (520 km) pipeline and its northward flow of gas might as well be a symbol of the relationship between the two countries.

Of all the mutual back-scratching among Europe’s rich democracies and North Africa’s strongmen, Italy’s dependency on Gaddafi stands apart. Libya is Italy’s largest supplier of oil, providing for roughly a third of the country’s energy consumption. The dictator’s government owns a substantial share of the Milan stock market, including 7.5% of Unicredit, Italy’s largest bank; 2% of the Italian oil company ENI; 2% of the country’s second largest industrial group, Finmeccanica; and 7% of the Turin-based Juventus soccer club. Libya also provides a critical market for its northern neighbor’s struggling construction firms. And, since 2008, when Italy agreed to invest $5 billion in Libya, Gaddafi has kept a tight grip on the attempts by his citizens and other African migrants to take ships northward on the Mediterranean.

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