The EU Commission President praises Libya as a “partner country”, the Migration Commissioner speaks for the first time of “criminals” in the coast guard, who according to reports are involved in smuggling.
On Friday afternoon, the Libyan coast guard made use of its firearm during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean. This was reported by the Swiss-based non-governmental organisation SOS Mediterranée. According to the statement, shots were fired in the immediate vicinity of its Norwegian-registered “Ocean Viking”. The organisation operates the rescue ship together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
According to SOS Mediterranée, the crew had responded to a distress call from a small boat 45 nautical miles off the Libyan town of Garabulli. It was the second operation on the same day, after the “Ocean Viking” had already taken 46 people on board from another boat in international waters.
Shortly after the evacuation of a total of eleven people in distress from the second boat by two inflatable rubber dinghies of the “Ocean Viking”, a patrol vessel of the Libyan coast guard allegedly approached at high speed, firing from a distance of “less than 100 metres”. A woman and five unaccompanied children were sitting in the dinghy at the time. In addition, the patrol vessel had made dangerous manoeuvres and had tried to push the rescuers away from the “Ocean Viking”.
The incident was filmed by a plane belonging to the non-governmental organisation Pilotes Volontaires. The crew of the plane was able to reconstruct from the video that the coast guard ship fired three times. No one was injured.
This is the third time this year that the “Ocean Viking” has experienced a dangerous incident with the Libyan coast guard during a rescue operation, writes SOS Mediterranée. In March, shots were also fired.
The patrol ship involved came from the Financial Police in Italy and is said to have been 90 percent financed by the EU when it was donated to the government in Tripoli. The funds came from the Brussels programme “Support to Integrated Border and Migration Management in Libya”. Another ship from EU funds was handed over in February, followed by two in June.
This year alone, Libyan units have intercepted over 7500 people on the high seas and brought them back to Libya. So says a letter from EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to the 27 EU states. Libya is an important “partner country”, so cooperation should be strengthened to “coordinate search and rescue capacities” and border surveillance at sea and land borders.
The EU is also to cooperate more closely with Libya “with a focus on combating migrant smuggling”. However, the coast guard itself is suspected of being involved. The EU border agency Frontex reported in 2016 that the smuggling business was run by active or former police and military personnel. Two years ago, a former Libyan police lieutenant also confirmed to the internet magazine “EU Observer” that the coast guard “cooperates with people smugglers”.
In a hearing in the European Parliament on Thursday last week, EU Migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson made the same statement for the first time. According to her, the Commission had a clear indication that criminal groups were infiltrating the coast guard.
A United Nations report published in March also confirms that “senior Libyan Coast Guard personnel” and a “Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration” based at the Ministry of the Interior are working together with smugglers. This department is also supported by the EU within the framework of the EUBAM Libya mission.
The goals of the EU mission, in which the German Federal Police is also participating, are the reorganisation of the Libyan security apparatus and the surveillance of the land and sea borders. In a call for tenders, many new staff members are being sought for this purpose – with work starting “as soon as possible”.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: EU-funded Libyan patrol boat obstructing a sea rescue operation on 7 July (SOS Mediterranée).