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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Libya's coastguard: an EU-funded sea militia?

Aid organisation Sea Watch, which operates to rescue refugees on the Mediterranean, has criticised the Libyan coastguard for endangering people’s lives in an incident north of Tripoli. It says the coastguard refused radio contact with Seawatch and the Italian navy (which had a helicopter in the region) while responding to a distress call from a rubber boat carrying refugees.

It said that although the coastguard did remove people from the water, it also attacked Seawatch team members who were also trying to rescue people, and that in their haste to leave the scene they dragged a refugee along their boat’s starboard side. The person was rescued by the navy helicopter.

Seawatch notes: ‘Obviously, their priority was not the rescue, but to drag people back to Libya. They did not even deploy their rescue boat, which is meant to be an asset in case of man overboard. They left it stored on their aftdeck during the whole operation. Instead of throwing potatoes at our crew, the self-declared coast guards could have made themselves useful for once.’

People’s actions are their own, of course, and they should be held responsible for them. But we should also note that the Libyan ‘coast guard’ is now funded by the EU. Its priority, under the terms of that funding, is not to save people’s lives at sea, but to prevent refugees from entering the EU.

That is, the EU is using its cash to create a sea-militia from what was once a life-saving service.

It is hard to see any justification whatsoever that would make this an acceptable policy

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