EU signs deal to train Libya coastguard
EU navies are to start training the Libyan coastguard in a bid to curb migration from the divided north African nation.
The agreement was signed in Rome on Tuesday (23 August) by Italian rear admiral Enrico Credendino, who heads the EU’s anti-smuggler operation, Sophia, and by Libyan commodore Abdalh Toumia, who runs the country’s coastguard on behalf of the Government of National Accord (GNA), its UN-backed authority.
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The training programme is to start on one of Sophia’s vessels, which are currently parked in international waters near Libya.
It will then move onshore either to Libya or to an as yet unnamed EU member state and end with training on Libyan ships.
Credendino said it would “improve the security of Libyan territorial waters” and help Libya to “perform law enforcement actions in order to tackle the criminal organisations that take advantage of smuggling and trafficking in human beings.”
“This will contribute to prevent further loss at sea”, he said.
Sophia, which began work in mid-2015, has five vessels - from Italy, Germany, Spain, and the UK - as well as three helicopters and three other aircraft.
The EU said on Tuesday it has plucked 21,958 people from the sea over the past year.
It has also sent 84 suspected smugglers to be tried in Italy and prevented 255 boats from being reused.
Migrants, most of them from Africa, are using Libya as a departure point to Europe in large numbers despite the perils of the journey.
Some 104,000 people arrived in Italy via the central Mediterranean in the period from 1 January to 21 August, compared to 116,000 last year, according to the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
More than 2,700 people died trying to make the crossing, compared to 2,546 last year, the IOM said.
Almost 2,300 people were rescued at sea just last weekend, the IOM added, but one boat, carrying mostly Syrian people, capsized last Friday near Italy, causing six deaths.
The Italian coastguard rescued another 500 people on Tuesday.
The EU training programme is part of broader efforts to stabilise Libya following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi five years ago.
But the Tripoli-based GNA that signed the EU accord on Tuesday suffered a blow on Monday when Libya’s parliament voted by a huge majority to reject its list of proposed ministers.
The GNA has also been rejected by powerful armed factions, such as forces loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya, and has little control over local chiefs.
The turmoil has helped smugglers to make use of the more than 80 embarkation points on the Libyan coast.
It has paralysed the economy, with oil output at just 200,000 barrels a day compared to 1.6 million/day in Gaddafi's time.
It has also fuelled arms smuggling and helped jihadist groups such as Islamic State (IS) and Ansar al Sharia to create new strongholds.
GNA-backed soldiers, supported by French special forces and US air strikes, all-but defeated IS in its base in the town of Sirte in western Libya over the past month.
But there is concern that IS fighters are fanning out from Sirte into the rest of the country.
For his part, Italian PM Matteo Renzi marked the importance of Sophia for EU security by hosting the French and German leaders on its flagship, the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi, on Monday.
But a British parliamentary report in May said the operation faced an "impossible" task.
"A military response can never, in itself, solve the problem of irregular migration. As long as there is need for asylum from refugees and demand from economic migrants, the business of people smuggling will continue to exist", the report said.
"The EU needs governments in the Middle East and North Africa that it can work with on migration ... Building the resilience of these countries is critical".