The 2008 deal was revived by Italy’s new populist government offering $5 billion in aid for the reparations to Libya to stop migrants sailing across the Mediterranean.
Enzo Moavero Milanesi, the Italian foreign minister, called the deal “significant and promising” after a meeting in Tripoli with Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government, at the weekend.
The original treaty was signed by former Libyan dictator Mouammar Gaddafi and Italy’s then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, as they sought to turn a page on 40 years of stormy relations between the North African country and its former colonizer.
Under the deal, which was suspended in 2011 after Gaddafi was ousted, Italy would invest $5 billion in Libya. In return, Libya would stop migrants from embarking from its shores to Italy and would accept migrants sent back by Italian authorities.
The deal was rejected by human rights groups who saw in repatriations to Libya a violation of asylum-seekers’ rights to protection from persecution.
Gaddafi used the deal to consolidate his firm grip on power and invoke Europe’s fears of a massive influx of migrants
When NATO was about to launch air strikes on Libya, Gaddafi warned: “Now listen, you people of NATO. You’re bombing a wall which stood in the way of African migration to Europe and in the way of al-Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You’re breaking it.”
Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule left a vacuum after he was deposed. Libya was lacking structures and experience to deal with a surge of migrants as the country remains fragmented by a civil war opposing a set of rival tribal militias.