Report of Libyan Coast Guards attacking migrants raises concerns – via ECRE

According to Sea-Watch, a non-profit NGO involved in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations between Italy and Lybia since 2014, Libyan Coast Guards have recently attacked migrants. This raises concerns over continued cooperation within Operation Sophia, the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med).


The allegation that the Libyan Coast Guard violently assaulted a vessel transporting asylum seekers raises strong concerns about the EU’s collaboration with the Libyan navy, which commenced last week as part of the EU’s Operation Sophia.

German NGO Sea Watch reported  that during a rescue operation two weeks ago, a rubber dinghy carrying 150 – 160 people was attacked by the Libyan Coast Guard.  According to Sea Watch, coast guards were seen hitting migrants and causing the deflation of the vessel. The attack led to the drowning of approximately 30 people. While Sea Watch published pictures of the incident, the Libyan Coast Guard merely confirmed its presence at the scene but denied the alleged attack.  After the attack, Sea Watch spokesperson Ruben Neugebauer said, “Next week training starts with the Libyan coastguard. We think it’s quite important to think about with whom we are collaborating.

”The training will start in the framework of Operation Sophia which was launched in June last year as an EU military mission with the objective of “disrupt[ing] the business model of human smugglers and traffickers” in the Central Mediterranean.  In June this year, the Operation’s mandate was reinforced to include the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy. The training, with the objective of enhancing the coast guard’s ability to disrupt smuggling and trafficking as well as to perform search and rescue operations, begun last week.

The decision to continue the training despite the attack was criticised by ProAsyl. The organization condemned the EU’s cooperation, saying that the EU hereby becomes an accomplice to the breaches of human rights committed by the Libyan Coast Guard.

For further information:

  • MEDMIG, Understanding the dynamics and drivers of Mediterranean migration in 2015, November 3, 2016
  • ECRE, EU naval operation against human smugglers facing challenges before moving into Libyan waters, February 19, 2016
  • ECRE, EU starts the ‘active phase’ of a critical operation against human smugglers, October 1, 2015
  • Check Sea-Watch Facebook page for more news. A #SafePassage is the only way to cut migrants’ deaths:

    Sea-Watch reply to the statement of the Commander of the European operation Sophia on the training of Libya´s so-called “coastguard”: is cynical, that the commander of the operation Sophia, Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, claims the training of Libyan coastguards could cut the death toll on the med.” Sea-Watch CEO Axel Grafmanns says. “It’s only meant to cut the number of people arriving in Europe, not the number of death on the Mediterranean Sea. There is only one way to cut migrants’ deaths, which is a safe and legal passage”

    “We are not against a SAR mission also within the 12 nm zone, as indeed many accidents occur there, however the absolute priority of any training mission has to be an improvement of the humanitarian situation and the SAR capabilities and not to cut down the number of migrants arriving in Europe.” Sea-Watch board member Johannes Bayer states: “Sea-Watch was able to document cases, in which Libyan coastguard carried out forced returns – even far out of territorial waters. These deportations are dictated by the European Union and should be considered as a clear violation of the non-refoulement principle as lives are being put in danger.”

    The most important question regarding this training mission was not answered by the admiral. (« we’ll have to see what happens. That’s a political decision,” Credendino) It´s the question whether people rescued by the so-called coastguards will be brought back to Libya or to a safe haven as it is required by international maritime law. This could be realised by a transfer of people, rescued by the Libyan coastguards, to one of the ships of international rescue organisations or the European navy.

    Even if it was not named by the admiral, EU policy makers made it quite clear in the past, that the aim of the mission is to stop boats from leaving and bringing back those who made it on the water. This happens in conflict with the IMO SAR convention, which is not ratified by Libya but by the member states of the European Union. “This approach will be deadly for a simple reason”, Bayer says. “Many of the people we rescued report horrible conditions in Libya, they say they would rather die at sea than going back to Libya. So even if a coastguard is well trained in Search and Rescue, the refugees on the boat will panic as soon as they recognise that they’ll be taken back to Libya.” These situations are extremely dangerous, the lion’s share of the more than 4000 deaths at sea in this deadliest year of history on the med were caused through panic situations during rescue operations, as we have seen during the disaster of the 21st of october”

    Furthermore, the statements made by mission Sophia´s admiral are in absolute contrast with the policy of the UNHCR, which just urged all countries to significantly expand the availability of regular pathways for refugees to reach safety. “Instead of working on a humanitarian solution, the EU mission Sophia is training a military force which they are not able to control as power shifts quickly in war-torn Libya. Best case scenario they´ll achieve a chaotic situation in which well trained coastguards will cause maritime disasters on a daily basis due to their approach of forced returns, causing even more drownings, but definitely not cutting the death toll”, Sea-Watch CEO Axel Grafmanns says. “What the EU is doing is completely reckless, and will cause drownings instead of saving lives, due to the fatal wrong approach of fortification and not only due to a lack of training. If Europe does not change its policy, using the dead as instrument of deterrence 2016 will not stay the deadliest year in history – we need a #SafePassage now! We need to invest in ferries not in coastguards.”

    Picture credits: Christian Ditsch

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