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.

Read the rest.