Italy's interior minister meets Libyan mayors over people smuggling

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti met Libyan mayors on Saturday to renew a commitment to fight people trafficking as part of an agreement signed earlier this year between Rome and Tripoli.

The meeting, which Libya’s interior minister also attended, focused on fostering alternatives to human smuggling and trade in contraband in Libyan towns heavily affected by illegal immigration.

“Youngsters in those areas and the whole of Libya deserve a future of hope, free from the threats of criminal organisations...” both sides said in a statement issued by Italy’s Interior Ministry.

In February, Italy pledged money, training and equipment to help the U.N.-backed Libyan government curb the flow of migrants to Europe.

More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea from North Africa since 2014, most of them from Libya where people smugglers have operated with impunity in the turmoil that followed the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The subject of immigration is dominating Italy’s political agenda ahead of general elections due before May next year, with public opinion increasingly hostile to migrants.

After a surge in migrant arrivals from Libya at the start of the year, numbers have recently slowed and Minniti said earlier this month those trends would continue in August.

Saturday’s meeting also included, among others, Italy’s ambassador to Tripoli and representatives of the European Commission.

Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Helen Popper