The Libyan coastguard has been accused of “running a racket in the Mediterranean Sea”; using their authority to turn the prevention of migrant crossing into a lucrative business.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that they have collected multiple testimonies from migrants, whom were intercepted at sea, confirming that they have bribed their way out of detention centres in Libya.The Libyan coastguards allegedly intercept vessels used by smuggler and detain migrants, only to release them after receiving bribes.
Britain and other European countries have been involved in supporting the Libyan coastguard, aiding with their training and providing necessary equipment. This has resulted in a backlash on these countries for the outcome of their involvement . HRW stated that funding by the European Union could be exacerbating the refugee crisis in Libya.
Despite the backlash, the Ministry of Defence continues training and supporting the Libyan coastguards. Most recently, Italy has collaborated with the Libyan coastguards for various training programmes. Moreover, Europe has been steadily increasing its’ cooperation with the Government of National Accord in response to the migrant crisis.
In response to these allegations, a government spokesperson said that the United Kingdom carries out “robust assessments” on all of its’ partners to assess human rights compliance and impact analysis prior to providing support. They added that they cannot “turn a blind eye” to migrants suffering and that they are doing their best in supporting migrants and working towards improving their rights and living conditions.
A spokesperson for the GNA also responded to these allegations, as reported in The Independent, stating that, “The Libyan government takes these allegations very seriously. We have a zero tolerance for corruption in any instances and will investigate these very serious allegations before taking the appropriate action.” The source added that the Libyan authorities are doing their best considering the circumstances; reaffirming their commitment to fighting illegal human trafficking along with international partners.
Yet, human rights organization are unmoved by official government response; citing mounting evidence against Libyan coastguards as cause for concern. The UK director for Amnesty for refugee and migrant rights, Steve Valdez-Symonds, stated that Libyan coastguards are in positions of power without proper pay or supervision. He added that abuses are common; be it that coastguards are acting independently or in coordination with larger operations. Judith Sunderland, the associate Europe director for Human Rights Watch, also warned of an “overlap” between smugglers, armed groups and recognised authorities in Libya. She added that the coastguards are unstable entities that are receiving support and equipment from Europe.
Rivalry between Libyan governments and numerous militias makes it unclear as to who it is exactly that is involved in the coast guard scandal. Yet, the evidence suggests that there is a clear collusion between the coastguards and smugglers. The key concern raised by various human rights organization is reflective of an ethical dilemma for international players. The question proposed is whether EU funding and training is perpetuating the pain and suffering of migrants, rather than alleviating it – and if so, then what is a viable alternative.