March 2. 2024. 2:47

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EU to train Libyan coast guard ‘whenever Libyan side is ready’

The EU is ready to re-start training the so-called Libyan coast guard whenever the Libyan side is ready under the mandate of the operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI, EU Commission spokesperson Peter Stano told the press on Monday (20 March).

Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI started in March 2020 and was renewed on Monday (20 March) for the following year with an allocation of roughly €16 million. It aims to fight against illegal weapons trafficking from Libya, as well as illicit fuel networks and human trafficking, and to train the Libyan coast guard.

“Until now, [the training of the Libyan coast guard] was not taken up because of reasons on the Libyan side […] So whenever the Libyan side would be happy to take it up, again, as we did in the past, then operation IRINI would deliver on this part of its mandate,” Stano said.

An official source from IRINI confirmed to EURACTIV they had not implemented such a mandate yet.

“The implementation in this activity has not started due to the political fragmentation in Libya.”

On EU-Libya relations, the spokesperson said, “it is very important to work with Libya on issues also related to migration. The EU continues to be ready to both provide the necessary equipment for search and rescue [SAR] operations of the relevant Libyan authorities”, but also to train how to respect “human rights”.

IRINI in a delicate position

IRINI operates in international waters of the central Mediterranean, a sensitive area for different kinds of trafficking, including of humans and member states raised the issue of a possible impact of IRINI’s presence in the proximity of migration routes.

For instance, according to a document of the Italian parliament commission on EU affairs, one condition for the renewal of the IRINI operation is that it should not constitute a ‘pull factor’ for migrants.

If there is evidence that “the naval deployment [of IRINI] is having a pull factor of migratory flows […] countries may decide to discontinue activities,” an Italian parliament document stated.

Commission denies Irini’s operation presence in Mediterranean migration routes

The European Commission has denied the presence of the EU military operation called ‘Irini’ in the Central Mediterranean in the area where ‘main migratory routes are running’, diplomatic spokesperson Peter Stano told the press on Monday (13 March).

Irini’s operation shares some units, information and experts with the EU border and coast guard agency Frontex, according to an official source from the agency.

“Frontex works with EUNAVFOR MED IRINI to optimise air surveillance in the Central Mediterranean, deconflicting weekly flight schedules and sharing relevant information when necessary (i.e. in SAR cases)”, the official source told EURACTIV.

The official source said the cooperation also consists of fighting against “arms trafficking” and “human smuggling business model and trafficking networks” as well as “exchange of experts”.

“An EUNAVforMed expert is currently based in Frontex’s Warsaw headquarters to support information exchange and cooperation in search and rescue operations”.

However, to date, there has not been evidence of SAR operations completed by IRINI

Controversial coast guard

UN head ‘shocked’ by suffering at migrant camp in Libya

UN Secretary General António Guterres said Thursday (4 April) he was “shocked” by the level of suffering of migrants at a detention centre in Tripoli which he visited during a visit to the Libyan capital.

The Libyan coastguard has been accused of many human rights violations, including torture, violence, murder, hindering rescue operations of volunteer rescue groups, and its members being former militia or involved in smuggling.

Detailed information on the organisation is scare, and in 2019, the Commission told InfoMigrants they were unaware how many planes, ships, or personnel the coast guard has at its disposal.

In January 2022, MSF Sea reported they were threatened by the coast guard while trying to conduct a rescue.

“As we approached the boat to rescue people and bring them to safety, we were threatened with being shot if we stayed in the area. We saw from afar that one or more people jumped into the water.’

Charities have called it a “Wild West” situation, adding live ammunition has been used against migrant boats. They also draw attention to a lack of accountability, information on the coastguard, and who receives the money they are sent.

There are also concerns that those sent back to Libya, with the help of the coastguard, face detention, torture, extortion and other forms of violence in detention centres.

In 2022, Amnesty International slammed the EU-Libya deal, where migrants are returned to the country as they would be held in “hellish” conditions.

“These arrangements… have since enabled Libyan authorities to disembark people intercepted at sea in Libya, although it is unlawful to return anyone to a place where they face serious abuse,” Amnesty said in a statement.

“It is high time to put an end to this callous approach, which shows a complete disregard for people’s lives and dignity. Instead, rescue efforts must ensure people are taken to a place of safety,” one of its migration and asylum researchers, Matteo de Bellis, said.

The European Commission argues that the Libyan coast guards “contribute to saving lives” and are meant to operate only in Libyan territorial waters. Brussels says it has sent “very firm messages” to Libya to close its migrant detention centres.

Amnesty slams five years of EU-Libya migrant deal

An EU-Libya deal under which migrants desperate to reach Europe are turned back and held in “hellish” conditions must be ended, Amnesty International said on Monday, the pact’s fifth anniversary.