The European Commission is working to further shore up Libya’s Coast Guard, and launch anti-smuggling partnerships with Tunisia and Egypt.
According to the EU Observer news site, these proposals were outlined in a letter sent earlier this week by European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen to Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.
The letter came in response to a query by Meloni to the European Commission over the recent drowning of some 70 people, including children, off the Calabrian coast.
“First, we must coordinate our actions with key patterns to prevent irregular departures, and save lives at sea,” von der Leyen said in her letter.
“This includes priority funding with Tunisia and Egypt, as well as further support to Libya’s maritime border management, and search-and-rescue capacities,” she said.
NGO boats are currently under intense pressure from Rome’s far-right government, under Meloni’s leadership. Geo Barents, a rescue boat operated by Doctors without Borders, was recently detained and fined €10,000 euros by Italian authorities.
In February, the European Commission, alongside Italian authorities donated new patrol boats to the Libyan Coast Guard, and announced some €800m euros for North Africa, up until 2024.
“But those intercepted at sea by the Libyans, including in search-and-rescue zones controlled by the Maltese, are returned to a country where they are often locked up in inhumane conditions,” EU Observer said.
The Libyans intercepted and returned almost 31,000 people last year, up from around 12,000 in 2020. Over 330 have died or gone missing across the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a UN body.
Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the European Union of “complicity” in the violations against migrants in Libya, and failing to adhere to human rights standards. This is after the EU handed over a search and rescue vessel to the Libyan authorities, intended for the “abusive” Libyan Coast Guard forces and promised four more.
HRW called on the EU to suspend cooperation with the Libyan authorities, until they “ensure they are complying with the obligation not to return people to places where they face abuse, inhumane detention conditions, and lack access to international protection. This makes the EU more complicit in human rights abuses in the Mediterranean.”