Wednesday

21st Oct 2020

Libya: EU first sends migrants back, then deplores deaths

The European Commission was on Wednesday (3 July) mute on how an EU-trained Libyan coast guard returns people rescued at sea to Libya - while at the same time condemning an attack that killed at least 40 at a detention centre in Tripoli.

In a statement on Wednesday the Commission said it wants a cessation of hostilities and respect for international humanitarian law in country rapidly descending into civil war.

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"Those responsible should be held to account," it said of the deaths, noting that Libya's system of detention needs to end.

The Commission statement followed two air strikes that hit the Tajoura detention centre some 30km east of Tripoli on early Wednesday morning.

That statement has riled the Libyans. One Libyan official, who asked not to be named, said the EU had no moral high ground when it comes to its detention of migrants.

"This is indeed cynical knowing that Operation Sophia and the paying of militias was done to block migrants or send them back to Libya, knowing they would end up in detention centres," the official told this website.

Operation Sophia is an EU-led anti-smuggling operation whose naval assets have been suspended following a backlash over rescues from Italy's far-right leadership under deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini.

Wednesday's Tajoura attack appears deliberate and targeted. While the women's wing was left unharmed, the area housing some 120 men was struck.

At least 40 people died and another 80 injured in what has been described as carnage.

Meanwhile, the commission has yet to respond to this website on whether it continues to support the return of those intercepted at sea to Libya and its one-page statement on the attacks make no mention either.

But in June alone, the Libyan coast guard returned almost 1,400 people to the country. Of those, 485 were sent to Tripoli. It is unclear how many of those, if any, ended up at the Tajoura detention.

Although having visited Tajoura multiple times over the past few months, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says it has no data on how many of those locked had been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard.

In May, it shuffled a group of 80 Eritreans, Ethiopians, Somalis, Sudanese, and Palestinians from Tajoura to another centre in Tripoli.

Over half were children.

"They must NOT be detained; civilians must NOT be a target; Libya is NOT a safe place of return," said Filippo Grandi, the UNHCR chief.

The French gambit

The bitter fighting in Libya follows an escalation of violence after the French-backed Libyan National Army (LNA) kicked off with attacks in Tripoli in April.

The French have shored up ties with Haftar to protect its oil interests in the country while Italy supports the government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Serraj.

General Khalifa Haftar, the warlord who leads the LNA, controls most of the east of Libya.

His assault in Tripoli has targeted similar camps in recent weeks in an effort to wrestle control away from the UN-supported government in the capital.

"If the EU wants to move forward on this problem it should start with getting Italy and France on the same page," said the Libyan source.

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