Libyan coast guard accused of endangering refugee lives


Illegal migrants, who were rescued by the Libyan coastguard in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast, arrive at the naval base in the capital Tripoli on May 6, 2017.

LIBYA – Libya’s Cost Guard stands accused by search and rescue organisations of reckless behaviour and endangering the lives of desperate African refugees trying to reach Europe from the North African country.

The accusations come as two United Nations agencies on Tuesday pledged to “go the extra mile” in supporting migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and Libyans affected by Libya’s ongoing conflict.

“A series of incidents caught on camera appear to show Libyan ships trying to prevent refugees being pulled from the water. Refugees also say they’ve been robbed and shot at by Libyan forces,” Al Jazeera reported.

According to the refugees, they were also ordered at gunpoint to jump from their boats into the sea by the armed coast guards.

A spokesman from Libya’s coastguard didn’t deny the claims but accused the rescue boats of illegally entering the country’s waters without first coordinating their movements with the Libyan authorities.

This is not the first time the Libyans have been accused of mistreating the refugees who use the North African country as a point of departure to flee to Europe in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats run by human traffickers, frequently resulting in the drowning of hundreds.

Earlier in the year, the UN children’s agency UNICEF released a report “A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route” which said migrant women and children were being subjected to sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy.

“Last year, at least 4,579 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, or one in every 40 of those who made the attempt. It is estimated that at least 700 of those who lost their lives were children,” said UNICEF.

Women and children also reported harsh and overcrowded conditions, including lack of nutritious food and adequate shelter, in Libyan detention centres run by both government and armed militias.

According to media reports, the mistreatment and torture of refugees, sometimes leading to their deaths, in the detention camps was not unusual.

“Libyan authorities should end the torture, forced labour, and sexual violence that has been the lot of detained migrants for years,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The partners in Libya’s policies toward migrants, including the EU, should insist on nothing less.”

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filip Grandi joined William Lacy Swing, the Director General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), at a senior-level briefing at IOM’s Geneva headquarters on Tuesday where they briefed member States on their recent missions to Libya and called for support to broader stabilisation efforts in the country.

The High Commissioner’s Office (UNHCR) issued a Supplementary Appeal for $75.5 million to meet the increased humanitarian and protection needs of people in Libya – including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities, as well as refugees and asylum seekers.

The appeal includes protection monitoring and interventions, as well as advocacy on issues related to respect for human rights, access to basic services, asylum procedures and freedom of movement.

Last week, UNHCR warned that hundreds of thousands of people in the crisis-gripped North African country have been affected by the collapse of law and order, absent or insufficient health care assistance, essential medicines, food, safe drinking water, shelter and education.

For its part, IOM in April launched a three-year Action Plan for Libya with two key objectives.

The first is to provide evidence based humanitarian assistance and protection to both displaced Libyans and migrants.

The second objective is to stabilise Libyan communities, as well as to build Libyan capacities in migration management.