13th Apr 2024

EU's 'do no harm' Libya policy hit by militia revelations

  • Screenshot of video showing Libyan armed group TBZ intercepting people at sea (Photo: Sea Watch)
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The European Commission's self-declared policy of not doing any harm in Libya appears increasingly strained, following reports Frontex collaborated with the Tariq Bin Zeyad Brigade — a Libyan militia with ties to the Russian mercenary group Wagner.

On Monday (11 December), the Brussels-executive skirted questions on how such collaboration adheres to its 'do no harm principle' when it comes to EU-funded operations in Libya.

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When pressed, a European Commission spokesperson demanded reporters field their questions to the Warsaw-based Frontex agency instead.

The deflection came after the Amsterdam-based LightHouse Reports revealed Frontex had shared the coordinates of a boat carrying prospective asylum seekers in the Mediterranean Sea with the war-crimes accused Tariq Bin Zeyad Brigade.

In an emailed statement, Frontex denied any direct contact. It said it had relayed an alert to all vessels in the vicinity of a boat in distress.

"That call was acknowledged only by the Libyan vessel. That's about the extent of our interaction," said a Frontex spokesperson.

However, LightHouse says merchant ships were also sailing nearby -– much closer than the TBZ ship — and NGO vessels or the Maltese or Italian coast guards could have assisted. A legal expert told the outlet that Frontex should have ensured that someone else took over the rescue.

The TBZ is led by Saddam Haftar, son of Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) general commander Khalifa Haftar. Amnesty International says the TBZ has terrorised people and inflicted "a catalogue of horrors" from rape to murder.

Cornelia Ernst, a German Left MEP, described the move by Frontex as a new low for an agency that is attempting to repair its tarnished reputation.

"When it comes to stopping people fleeing it seems like the EU is willing to do anything, no matter the cost," she said.

The European Commission has made repeated public statements that its policies in Libya do no harm — despite its own migration commissioner making claims that the Libyan coast guard is infiltrated by criminals.

Last year, Francisco Gaztelu Mezquiriz, a senior commission official, told European lawmakers that the European Commission had hired outside contractors to ensure its operations in Libya respects the do no harm policy.

"So far, the contractor didn't report any violations of do no harm principle directly related to all costs by our trust fund programmes," he told European lawmakers.

"We strongly believe that increasing the effectiveness of the Libyan search-and-rescue operations can only help to reduce the number of lives lost at sea," he also said.

The European Commission has refused to disclose the name of the contractor and any evidence or reports by the contractor to substantiate such claims, following freedom of information requests filed by EUobserver.

The EU's administrative watchdog, the European Ombudsman, has since launched an ongoing probe on the back of EUobserver's efforts to obtain the reports.

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