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16th May 2021

EU and Italy put aside €285m to boost Libyan coast guard

  • The EU's operation Sophia has helped save 46,000 people (Photo: Flickr)

Combined Italian and EU efforts to shore up the Libyan coast guard will cost €285 million over the next few years.

Speaking to MEPs in the civil liberty committee on Tuesday (28 November), Mario Morcone from the Italian interior ministry, said the figure covers expenses up until 2023.

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"The project is going to cost €285 million, the whole thing," he said.

The plan is to create operational centres in Libya to "help search and rescue operations at sea" and to better coordinate fleets between the Libyan and Italian coastguard.

He also said a pilot project would be launched to set up border guard posts on land.

Italy has given the Libyan coast guard some six vessels and is set to hand over another three before the end of the year.

Jean-Christophe Filori, a senior European Commission official, said at the committee hearing they wanted a search and rescue operation centre created in 2018.

The EU Commission had earlier this year announced a €46 million programme to prop up the Libyan coast guard.

That includes setting up two fully-fledged control facilities in Tripoli overseen by the Libyan ministry of defence.

The same ministry has been described by internal EU reports as having "little or no control of the armed forces".

The EU and Italian efforts have been condemned by human rights defenders given that people rescued at sea are returned to Libya where they often face violence and even death.

CNN earlier this month documented evidence of migrants being sold in slave auctions, some sold for as little as €330. The issue risks overshadowing an EU-Africa summit in the Ivory Coast on Wednesday that is meant to address jobs and youth.

Libyan coast guard and human rights

The Libyan coast guard has also come under intense scrutiny over reports of abuse and maltreatment of people they rescue.

Some of those interceptions are said to be taking place beyond Libyan territorial waters. It is illegal to return people rescued from international waters.

The EU has trained some 140 Libyan coastguards, which includes courses in human rights.

"The aspect of human rights and the respect for humanitarian law is a 'red thread' in the training provided," said Vincent Piket, a senior official in the EU's foreign policy branch, the EEAS.

An EU monitoring mechanism has been put in place to ensure the Libyan coastguard respect those rights.

But the mechanism is a self-monitoring exercise, largely run by the Libyans.

Some 10,000 people have died since 2015 in their effort to cross Mediterranean.

Another 31 migrants perished over the weekend, including children, when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast.

More and more people are having to resort to less seaworthy rubber boats - in part, because the EU's naval operation Sophia sinks and destroys intercepted vessels.

Meanwhile, the EU is financing international organisations like the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) who operate inside the war-torn country.

The IOM is shipping people trapped in the country back to their home countries as part of a voluntary, assisted return, scheme.

Some 10,000 have so far been removed with the aim of reaching 15,000 before the end of the year.

The UNHCR is also setting up a compound to house some 1,000 people in need of international protection.

Earlier this month, the UN agency sent some 25 refugees to Niger as part of renewed resettlement programme. The programme dovetails into a proposed EU scheme of resettling some 50,000 over the next two years.

UN criticises EU policy in Libya as 'inhuman'

The EU's policy of helping the Libyan coast guard to return people plucked from the sea is "inhuman", says the UN's human rights chief, given that most end up in dire conditions.

EU monitoring of Libyan coastguard done by Libyans

The EU trains the Libyan coastguard and set up a monitoring mechanism to ensure they respect the human rights of migrants. But the mechanism only requires Libyans to file reports about themselves.

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