Europe's Deputy Sheriffs (II)

TRIPOLI/BERLIN (Own report) - Sea rescuers, critical observers and experts are warning against the EU's plan to reinforce Libya's Coast Guard. Last weekend, sea rescuers announced they would file a lawsuit against the coast guard for allegedly leaving three people behind on the high seas in a disabled dinghy. A woman and a child died a miserable death. Already in June, the United Nations had imposed sanctions on several of the EU's Libyan cooperation partners - including the coast guard commander in Zawiya, the leader of a militia, accused of using firearms to sink migrant boats. Experts warn that by transforming civil war militias into coast guard units rather than disarming them, the EU is actually rewarding the armed militias and undermining the officially aspired reconstruction of the Libyan state. In the meantime, initial signs of opposition to the brutal repulsion of refugees are appearing within Italy's Coast Guard: Officers were refusing to follow orders and are voicing their criticism publicly.

Support for the Coast Guard

EU state and government leaders had already decided to reinforce Libya's Coast Guard at their Brussels summit on June 28. It will step up "its support" for the coast guard, the EU Council writes in its conclusions. This will include intensifying the training of coast guard personnel as well as sending EU staff to Tripoli to "help" the respective Libyan authorities monitor their coastal waters - presumably aimed at preventing members of Libya's Coast Guard from engaging as part-time illegal travel operators, permitting selected refugee boats to pass on to the EU.[1] With €46 million, Brussels is also supporting the establishment of a sea rescue center in Libya.[2] Italy, which has already provided the Libya's Coast Guard with four patrol boats, has announced that it will donate another twelve with the aim of enabling the coast guard to prevent - if possible - all refugees from debarking or to take them into custody at sea. EU vessels would thus avoid having to take refugees on board in international waters and bring them to the EU. It would also effectively shut down private sea rescue.

Left to Die

Libya's Coast Guard, which, de facto, is nothing more than a loose-knit alliance of militias with ships from Libya's coastal cities, is known for its serious crimes against refugees. ( reported.[3]) They are currently under suspicion of having abandoned two women and a child while evacuating a rubber dinghy on the high seas. On the boat, the Spanish relief organization Proactiva Open Arms discovered two dead - a woman and a child - and one survivor, which they finally brought to safety in Palma de Mallorca. Italy had refused to allow the two corpses to be brought ashore. Initially the Libyan Coast Guard had strictly denied having not evacuated people from the boat. Now they have begun to admit that after unsuccessful attempts to revive two persons - a woman and a child - they abandoned them to their fate.[4] Proactiva Open Arms assumes that all three had been alive during the evacuation, but had refused to return to Libyan torture camps, whereupon the coast guard disabled the boat and sailed off. Proactiva Open Arms will now press charges.

Sunk by Shots

Already in June, the United Nations found it necessary to impose sanctions against several of the EU's Libyan cooperation partners and EU countries - including at least one functionary of the coast guard. Abd al Rahman al Milad, a militia commander, is head of the EU-funded regional unit of the Libyan coast guard in Zawiyah to the west of Tripoli. His unit is said to be particularly notorious for using violence against refugee boats.[5] For example, his militia sinks migrant boats using firearms, brings the refugees to an allied detention centre, where they are reportedly tortured, explains the UN in its grounds for imposing sanctions. The UN is also punishing Ahmed Dabbashi. He is a militia commander from Sabratha, also located west of Tripoli, and a member of a clan headed by a former member of a local branch of the Islamic State. ( reported.[6]) In 2015, Italy's Eni Oil and Gas Company signed an agreement with Dabbashi to protect the nearby Mellitah oil and gas complex. In 2017, according to concurring reports, Rome agreed to pay him an unspecified sum of money not to allow refugees to board ships to Europe, but to capture them. The United Nations is now going after him because his militias brutally mishandle refugees and has exposed them to "brutal conditions and sometimes fatal circumstances on land and at sea."[7]

Arming Militias

Experts are fundamentally criticizing the fact of creating Libya's Coast Guard from local militia units. Since one year, Italy has been particularly engaged in trying to recruit militias that had previously been making their money by smuggling refugees to Europe, to help in blocking the smuggling, according to a comprehensive study, published in late 2017 by the Institute for Security Studies, a think tank with offices in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Senegal. Since July 2017, this strategy, for which the respective militias must be paid, has, in fact, led to a reduction in the number of refugees reaching Europe. However, in the long run, this policy is extremely detrimental. Ultimately, this provides a favorable position to the militias siding with the EU, those disguised as coast guards can even profit from a certain quantity of EU weapons. However, this constellation perpetuates exactly those structures making impossible the stabilization of Libya's state. The future of the country and its population, de facto, is being sacrificed for the EU's objective of a speedy and comprehensive halt to the immigration of refugees. The urgently needed disarmament of the civil war militias is further postponed.[8]

2000 Years of Civilization

Aside from the growing protests against collaboration with Libya's Coast Guard, the Italian Coast Guard is beginning to show signs of resistance to the brutal repulsion of refugees. Recently, the Admiral of he Guardia Costiera publicly opposed the policy of Italy's Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini and pointed out that - according to Italian verdicts - Libya is not a "safe haven" for refugees rescued at sea. Unfortunately, since June, at Rome's insistence, rescue missions, whenever possible, must be delegated to the Libyan Coast Guard - precisely because the refugees will be brought back to Libya. Several officers of the Guardia Costiera have depicted to the Italian media, how on July 13, they disobeyed orders and rescued 450 refugees from a disabled fishing vessel, even though Rome had told them to let Malta take charge.[9] Following a hefty dispute, the refugees were ultimately allowed to leave ship in Italy. Last week, during the ceremony commemorating the 153rd Anniversary of the founding of the Guardia Costiera, the Guardia's commander Admiral Giovanni Pettorino also recalled the submarine commander Salvatore Todaro, who, in World War II, took considerable risks to save enemy sailors from drowning. When a German admiral protested that in wartime, "you don't do things like that," Pettorino recounted, in the presence of representatives of the new ultra-right-wing government, Todaro - who today has a submarine in Italy's Navy bearing his name - responded: "We are Italian seamen. We have 2000 years of civilization behind us, and we do things like that."


[1] Michael Stabenow: Die Hoffnung auf Libyen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 17.07.2018.

[2] Linke und Seenotretter kritisieren Millionen-Hilfe für Libyens Küstenwache. 02.07.2018.

[3] See also Rückschub in die Hölle and Europas Hilfspolizisten.

[4] Migranti, i libici: "Madre e bimbo erano già morti. In acqua non c'era nessun altro". Palazzotto: "Salvini si scusi". 20.07.2018.

[5] Patrick Wintour: UN accuses Libyan linked to EU-funded coastguard of people trafficking. 08.06.2018.

[6] See also Europas Hilfspolizisten.

[7] Patrick Wintour: UN accuses Libyan linked to EU-funded coastguard of people trafficking. 08.06.2018.

[8] Mark Micallef, Tuesday Reitano: The anti-human smuggling business and Libya's political end game. Institute for Security Studies (ISS): North Africa Report 2. December 2017.

[9] Italian coastguard staff break silence to express concern over government migrant policy. 20.07.2018.