EU says Libya needs more boats after latest drowning tragedy

The European Commission pledged more support to Libya after Italy’s coastguard said about 30 people were missing in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean over the weekend.

“Other boats will follow,” said a spokesman for the European Commission.

“We see that capacity needs to be strengthened,” she said, adding that the Libyans received six refurbished boats and one new one earlier this year.

But the latest tragedy, in a series of many, continues to raise questions about EU support for a Libyan coastguard with alleged links to militias.

EUobserver witnessed an attempt by the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept a boat carrying people, including two disabled boys, at dangerous speeds in Malta’s search and rescue zone.

Malta had refused to send aid. This interception came just days after the Libyan Coast Guard was filmed shooting into the water near another boat full of people seeking safety.

A former Libyan police lieutenant told EUobserver that the country’s coastguard is actually itself part of the smuggling network the European Commission says it is trying to dismantle.

“She [smugglers] make money on the back of the desperation and risks taken by migrants trying to reach the European Union,” said European Commission Deputy Chief Spokesperson Dana Spinant.

The European Commission declared war on smugglers back in 2015.

Three years later, the now former EU regional director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) condemned this strategy as one that would only serve to encourage migrant smugglers while increasing risks for those seeking safety.

Today, the European Commission continues its war against smugglers by outsourcing its strategy to North African states.

Last July, it launched anti-smuggling partnerships with Niger and Morocco.

Now it wants to do the same with Egypt and Tunisia, whose leadership under President Kais Saied has demanded that the Tunisian security forces take action against sub-Saharan migrants.

Another spokesman for the European Commission said that the legal channels also need to be improved.

“We must indeed ensure that we can offer a real alternative to those who put their fate in the hands of criminals,” she said.

These ideas are part of a European Commission action plan for the Central Mediterranean, first proposed last November.

“Migrants arriving via Libya are mostly from Egypt, Tunisia and Bangladesh,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said last November.

Meanwhile, the Italian Coast Guard says the 30 people who drowned on Sunday were in Libya’s search and rescue zone.

Alarm Phone, a network of activists that provides a hotline for refugees in need, said they forwarded the alarm to Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities on March 11.

They said a merchant ship nearby did not stop to intervene because they were not instructed to do so by the Italian rescue coordination center in Rome.

Another ship eventually came to the rescue, but by that time the boat had capsized and only 17 survived.

By GPS coordinates quoted by an Italian journalist, The sinking occurred in an area also patrolled by the EU naval operation Irini.

Irini has yet to respond if they received the alert or if any of their assets were nearby. Its primary mandate is to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya, but is committed to conducting bailouts if necessary.

Both Austria and Hungary threatened to veto its creation, fearing it would end up saving people.

An internal memo earlier this year admitted that Irini’s efforts to improve the Libyan Coast Guard’s standards had failed. It also wants to increase the effectiveness of its aerial surveillance to enable early detection of migrant departures.


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