Italy’s navy began a mission on Wednesday to assist Libya’s coastguard in curbing the flow of people undertaking the perilous sea journey to Europe.

The limited mission, which kicked off with an Italian patrol boat heading towards the port of Tripoli, began within minutes of Italy’s parliament approving the deployment.

“(We will) provide logistical, technical and operational support for Libyan naval vessels, helping them and supporting them in shared and coordinated actions,” Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

“There will be no harm done or slight given to Libyan sovereignty, because, if anything, our aim is to strengthen Libyan sovereignty,” she added, emphasising that Italy was not intending on imposing a blockade on the Libyan coast. 

The mission was announced last week, when Italy said that the assistance was requested by Libya’s UN-backed government.

While Italy has said that the move is aimed at stemming flows to Europe, it has drawn criticism from rights groups, who say that it will further endanger the lives of people.

“After years of saving lives at sea, Italy is preparing to help Libyan forces who are known to detain people in conditions that expose them to a real risk of torture, sexual violence, and forced labour,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

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