Italy accuses Wagner of being behind spike in migration flows and failing to respond to capsized vessel north of Benghazi

Mar 12, 2023 | International actors

On 12 March, a boat carrying 47 people from eastern Libya towards Italy capsized due to bad weather in the central Mediterranean about 177km north of Benghazi. 17 people were rescued and 30 are missing. The charity Alarm Phone accused the Italian coastguard of failing to intervene in time to save the passengers, saying it had first informed the Italian authorities that the vessel needed immediate rescue on 11 March. The Italian coastguard said that after an initial rescue attempt by a merchant ship failed due to bad weather, Libyan authorities asked Rome for help given that they lacked the means to carry out the rescue. Rome then requested merchant ships in the area to join the rescue efforts, along with aerial support from the European Union’s border agency Frontex, noting that the ship capsized outside Italy’s search and rescue area. However, the vessel turned over during an attempt to transfer people onto the FROLAND merchant ship on 12 March. In response to the incident, Tommaso Foti, a member of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy Party, claimed on 12 March that the Italian secret services estimated that 685,000 migrants are currently in Libya seeking to come to Italy. This figure has been disputed by the International Organization for Migration, which cautioned that the figure appeared to be confusing the high end of the estimated number of migrants in Libya with those who were seeking to head from there to Europe. On 13 March, the Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto claimed that the ‘exponential increase’ in migrants crossing the central Mediterranean is part of a ‘clear strategy of hybrid warfare’ whereby Russia is using the Wagner Group’s influence in parts of Africa to increase migrant flows as a means to retaliate against countries supporting Ukraine. Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin posted a response on Telegram saying ‘We have no idea what’s happening with the migrant crisis, we don’t concern ourselves with it’.