BRUSSELS, (AP) — The confidential military report of the European Union recommends that the controversial EU program to train and arm Libya’s navy and coast guard continue despite growing concerns over their treatment of migrants, a rising death toll at sea and the absence of any central authority in North Africa.
The Associated Press obtained the report from The Associated Press and circulated it to EU officials. It offers a rare glimpse at Europe’s resolve to support Libya in interception and return of tens to thousands of children, men, and women to Libya, where they are subject to insufferable abuse.
The report was compiled by Rear Adm. Stefano Turchetto (Italian navy), head of Operation Irini’s EU arms embargo surveillance mission. It acknowledges Libya’s “excessive use” of force and states that EU training has “no longer been fully followed.”
Many thousands of migrants have crossed Libya to reach Europe. A lucrative trafficking and smuggling industry has thrived in Libya. The country is without a functioning government and was for many years split between rival administrations. Each one was backed by foreign governments and armed groups.
The EU report acknowledged that “the political deadlock” in Libya has hindered Europe’s training program. It also noted that internal divisions in the country make it difficult for Europe to get political support to enforce “proper behavior standards…compliant with human rights especially when dealing with irregular migrants.”
The European Commission and EU’s External Action Service, which is the equivalent to the 27-nation blocs’ foreign office, declined to comment. Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the EU, confirmed that the EU will train coast guard personnel in Libya and increase the capacity of Libya to manage large search-and rescue areas across the Mediterranean.
Stano stated that the EU training program “remains firm in the table to enhance the capacity of Libyan authorities to rescue lives at sea,”
There has been a growing criticism of Europe’s migration policies. Three requests to the International Criminal Court were filed requesting that European and Libyan officials, traffickers, militiamen, and other people be investigated for crimes against humanity. In October, a U.N. inquiry found evidence that Libyan abuses may have been crimes against humanity.
Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary General, called on countries to “reexamine policies supporting interception at sea as well as the return of refugees to Libya.”
Stano dismissed these criticisms. Stano stated, “When it involves migration, our objective to save lives, protect those who are in need, and fight trafficking and migrant smuggling.”
Human rights defenders disagree with asylum seekers.
A Cameroonian mother arrived in Libya with her child in 2016, hoping to find work. “The Europeans pretend they show the good face,” she said. After being separated from her child, she was forced to prostitution and trafficked. The AP doesn’t identify victims of sexual violence.
She boarded a boat smuggler to travel to Europe in 2018. However, her group was captured by Libyan authorities. They were taken to Tajoura detention center, where they were tortured and beaten. After a $700 ransom was paid by a friend, she was released.
They call it saving lives. The woman inquired, “How is it saving lives when these lives are tortured after being saved?”
Stano stated that the EU has a clear position on Libya’s detention centers: “They are unacceptable.” The current system of arbitrary detention must be ended.
However, despite these assertions, nothing has changed on ground. Last month, the Libyan government appointed Mohammed Al-Khoja to lead the Department for Combating Irregular Migration that oversees the detention centres.
Violeta Moreno Lax, founder of Queen Mary University of London’s immigration law program, stated that “the same people who are in charge of dismantling trafficking business themselves are the traffickers.”
EU reported that a Libyan patrol used excessive force during the September 15 intercept of a wooden boat carrying about 20 migrants just off the coast Libya.
According to the report, Libyan forces used tactics that were “unpredicted” and not in accordance with EU training…as well as international regulations. The report did not provide any further information about the exact incident.
A spokesman from the Libyan coastguard did not respond to AP’s requests for comment on the incident or the EU report. The coast guard and the Libyan interior ministry have stated that they do their best in a country that has been ravaged by civil war for years.
Frontex, the European border guard agency and coast guard that recorded the Sept. 15 intercept, responded to AP questions. It said that it had filed a serious incident report but couldn’t give details.
Ozlem Demirel from the German Left party was a member of the European Parliament and said that the report provided “further proof” that the force should not be cooperating with the Left party.
She said, “The fact that Irini even seeks further training is, to my mind, absurd.”
For years, it has been well documented that Libyan authorities use violent tactics at sea. A volunteer rescue ship crew reported last week that a Libyan patrol boat was “shooting at” a person who had jumped in the water.
Since 2015, 455 million euros ($516million) have been allocated to Libya by the EU’s Trust Fund for Africa. Large amounts of this money have gone to fund migration and border management.
According to a 2019 AP report, however, large sums were diverted to traffickers and militiamen who exploit migrants. Coast guard officers are also complicit in turning migrants captured at sea to detention centers, either under agreements with militias or demanding payment to allow others to go.
Much of the EU money funneled through Italy has been used to fund staff training and boat refurbishment for Libyan authorities. In the next two-years, three new patrol boats will be purchased by the Libyan coast guard. They also received uniforms and satellite phones.
The surveillance of European drones, aircraft, radar and radar is essential for intercepting small, unseaworthy boats carrying migrants in the Mediterranean. Even then, the political chaos of the country can often impact search-and rescue operations.
After a decline in 2020, irregular migration from North Africa to Italy or Malta soared in 2021. This was largely due to the coronavirus epidemic. According to Frontex, one-third of all illegal border crossings into Europe were made via the central Mediterranean.
However, interceptions increased as more migrants fled. The Libyan coast guard intercepted and returned to Libya over 32,000 migrants last year. This is almost triple the number expected for 2020.
Yet, despite all the training and equipment Libya received to save lives last year, more than 1,500 people were killed or missing, making it the deadliest year since 2017.