29th Sep 2023

Libyan coast guard infiltrated by criminals, says EU commissioner

  • EU neighbourhood commissioner Oliver Varhely (l) in February touring a patrol boat given to the Libyan coast guard (Photo: European Union, 2023)
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The European Commission says there is a clear indication that the Libyan coast guard, which it subsidises, is infiltrated by criminal groups.

The statement on Thursday (6 July) from EU commissioner for migration, Ylva Johansson, follows the recent EU handover over of patrol boats to the Libyan coast guard.

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"I also have to say some of the countries that are neighbouring and transit are more difficult than others, like Libya, where we also have clear indication of criminal groups being ... infiltrating also in the coastguards," she told MEPs.

"So of course, this is not an easy task. That's why it's not enough to work with these countries, we also have to work with the countries of origin," she said.

On 22 June, the European Commission along with Italian authorities gave the Libyan coast guard two patrol boats. Another was handed over in February by neighbourhood commissioner Oliver Varhelyi.

At the time, Varhelyi said that there would be five patrol vessels in total delivered to the Libyan authorities in the coming months.

The Libyan coast guard are estimated to have intercepted and returned to Libya 120,000 people since 2017. They have also been known to use aggressive tactics and have been filmed shooting near and around migrant boats in distress.

One former Libyan police lieutenant told this website that the coast guard works with people smugglers.

And a UN fact-finding mission, earlier this year, linked the Libyan coast guard to crimes against humanity.

The commission's coast guard support initially fell under the EU Trust Fund for Africa programme. But the latest financing comes under NDICI or a so-called neighbourhood, development and international cooperation instrument.

Two years ago, the commission earmarked some €10m from this fund to support Libya's border management. Another €45m in regional money had also been launched to help finance Libyan and Tunisia border management.

"This is in full swing," said Henrike Trautmann, a senior European Commission official.

She said the money also goes towards training Libyan authorities in charge of maritime border management, as well as activities of its Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre.

"We are implementing our actions in the context of a sound conflict sensitivity analysis," she says.

Giorgia Jana Pintus, a researcher at ARCI, an Italian NGO, estimates the Libyan coast guard received a total of some €100m in combined aid from EU and Italian authorities.

But she said this is only partial because a lot of the money is shrouded in secret memorandum of understandings and inter ministerial agreements.

"To this day, the majority of the funds located under the EU's trust fund programme is not traceable by the public," she said. "And we don't know how and with which criteria human rights monitoring and assessment was carried out," she said.

For its part, the European Commission in 2019 hired an outsider contractor to ensure that its financed projects in Libya adhere to a 'do no harm principle'.

Last year, a commission official told MEPs that "so far, the contractor didn't report any violations of do no harm principle directly related to all costs by our trust fund programmes. "

But the commission will not disclose the name of the contractor due to security concerns, it says.

The commission declined a freedom of information request filed by EUobserver to obtain information on the contractor. An appeal to that request, launched last August, remains unanswered.

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