(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Member states of the European Union are considering providing Libya with boats to assist in their refugee management program called Operation Sophia, which began in June 2015.
Earlier this week, the EU said they are hoping that Libya will be able to protect its own shores independently by summer 2017.
“I think that some member states will provide some more vessels to the Libyans,” said an EU representative.
Refugees make the risky and dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya in hopes of starting a better life, free of the oppression, poverty and instability they escaped.
Training of the Libyan coastguards has been part of the Operation Sophia mandate, in addition to intercepting boats smuggling weapons into Libya.
The EU is not the only one patrolling the waters near Libya’s shores. The Italians, who have about five vessels, are joined by NATO, NGOs, and Frontex, EU’s border agency, in patrolling the Mediterranean Sea looking for boats carrying refugees or smuggling weapons.
The training program, which consists of three phases, will begin late September or early October.
About 80 Libyans will be chosen, evaluated, and then taken aboard San Giorgio, an Italian armoured vessel, to be trained in international waters for 14 weeks.
“Training them and giving them some capabilities will give them the possibility to save lives,” said the EU representative.
The number of refugees dying at Sea has doubled this year in comparison to last year. Close to 2,000 people drowned inside Libyan waters this year.
Operation Sophia vessels located at the edge of international waters nearing Libya has for the most part kept smugglers away.
The operation has confiscated 288 boats, arrested 87 smugglers and saved the lives of close to 25,000 people since last year.
The EU hopes to eventually get its operation in Libyan waters to be more effective in stopping smugglers. However, it is unlikely that the EU will get approval from Libya or the UN Security Council any time soon.
Any weapon smugglers caught are taken to Marseille, where those on board will face a French court.
The EU representative said, “if there is a need to dispose of these weapons, they will be escorted to the port of diversion.”
This means more boats for Operation Sophia.
So far, there are 24 EU member states involved in the operation with five ships, three helicopters, three planes, and around 1,200 individuals led by Enrico Credendino, an Italian commander.
France will likely add two more boats to the existing fleet and the UK is likely to add one more. Belgium said it is also willing to give the operation one of its boats in October.
NATO said it is also prepared to assist the EU with logistics and gathering information, and it is getting new Global Hawk drones that could possibly be used for missions close to Libya’s shores.