August 3, 2021

“They are firing!” The video of the Libyan Coast Guard attacks against migrants that is shocking Europe

The video began circulating on social media on Thursday — and quickly went viral. A wooden vessel, with dozens of migrants on board, escapes from a larger boat, part of the Libyan Coast Guard fleet, which fires at least twice towards the migrants, throws various objects at the boat and passes it several times. tangents.

The video was recorded from the air by the crew of the Mediterranean surveillance plane “Seabird” of the German non-governmental organization Sea Watch, which is trying to identify boats that may be in trouble and then contact the nearest authorities, or any ships who are close, to help people. At the time of the incident, both the Libyan and the migrant boats were in international waters, but within the rescue zone assigned to the Maltese authorities.

In the video you can hear the crew asking the Libyan authorities not to shoot the boat and the Libyans replying that they are trying to save people. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has already responded to this episode: “Extremely serious if confirmed”, he told France 24.

The Libyan navy issued a statement on Thursday night condemning “any acts that violate local and international norms and laws” and promising to hold those responsible accountable. The statement also admitted that the Libyan ship had endangered the lives of migrants during the pursuit.

On Friday, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano declared the incident “a cause for concern”, adding that the Commission has already sent a request for clarification to the Libyan government. The Expresso asked the Commission for a reaction and will report it as soon as it arrives.

The Libyan Coast Guard boat shown in the video, the “Ras Jadir”, is one of four donated by Italy in May 2017, part of a comprehensive agreement between the European Union (EU) and Libya and which, according to the EU, aims to improve living conditions in that African country and reduce migratory flows to the EU. In total there are 12 boats offered by Italy, an aid agreement that the Italian government renewed for another three years in 2020.

The problem, and this is the basis of complaints from members of various NGOs, is that the Libyan Coast Guard, which often rescues migrants in distress, takes these people back to detention centers for migrants that proliferate in the country, centers where living conditions are not considered to be minimally acceptable. This is said by the European Court of Justice, which does not consider Libya to be a safe haven and therefore it is against international law to return anyone to that country.

“During our mission with the reconnaissance plane ‘Sea-Watch Seabird’ on June 30 at 1:39 pm, we heard a communication about the position of a boat carrying 65 people, many children, within the search and rescue zone of Malta . Anyone who shoots refugees and tries to ram their boats is not there to save them. The EU must immediately end cooperation with the Libyan ‘coast guard’. European states like Malta must take responsibility for their rescue zones and do their duty,” Sea Watch said in a statement.

Sacks containing bodies of drowned migrants along the coastal city of Komas, Libya

ayman al-sahili / reuters

Speaking to Euronews in February, the head of the navy in charge of the EU’s water policing operation said the European Union should give Libya more autonomy to deal with illegal immigration and the best way to stop migrants from trying this dangerous crossing to Europe was to help prepare the Libyan coast guard to combat the smuggling of people. “I believe that the best way to end illegal immigration, to contribute to the dismantling of these models of smuggling people, is to train the Libyan coast guard, the Navy, because we need to give them more autonomy to deal with the security issues that they happen in waters that are their responsibility,” said Fabio Agostini, head of the Irini maritime border patrol mission, which is not aimed at saving people and is a very distant vision of another mission, Mare Nostrum, born precisely for save people.

An Associated Press investigation found that by the end of 2019 the EU had sent more than €327.9 million to Libya, which is more than three times the cost of Mare Nostrum. The €101.4 million extra that the EU awarded to Frontex in 2020 is roughly the same as Italy alone paid for the Mare Nostrum operation during 2014 (€9 million per month). Why did the EU choose to send so much funds to a state that the EU itself considers corrupt rather than investing in a rescue operation similar to Mare Nostrum? Expresso has already asked the European Commission this question several times, as the topic of referrals to Libya is common and almost always raises the same questions.

mahmud turkia/afp/getty images

The European Commission did not respond directly to the question but stressed that “there are currently programs under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for North Africa worth €408 million that mainly support the protection of the most vulnerable groups such as migrants and refugees, and the stabilization of communities”. As for “border management”, the EC response continues, “the EU has pledged to support Italy’s Ministry of the Interior with €42.5 million, which in turn aim to strengthen the integrated management of borders and migration in Libya”. The main beneficiary of these programs is the Libyan General Administration of Coastal Security (GACS), which reports to the Libyan Ministry of Interior and whose area of ​​operations is limited to the Libyan coastline and territorial waters (12 nautical mile zone) . “The objective of this program is to save the lives of those who make dangerous journeys by sea or land, it is not to intercept and prohibit the progress of boats. GACS has already received several trainings in search and rescue technical assistance, including human rights.”

This week’s episode has deserved special attention because in fact there is a video where the shooting against people is undeniable, and that you don’t see every day. More common is the denunciation of illegal referrals as such a common practice that several lawyers and even the UN already classify it as “part of the policy for migration” in countries like Greece, Italy, Malta or Croatia, to mention only those most frequently mentioned in the written reports on the topic.

The boat of 65 migrants targeted by the shots managed to avoid the interception and reached the island of Lampedusa on 1 July, the same morning that another boat capsized off the coast of Sicily, leaving seven women dead and nine people missing.

Nearly 700 people died in the first six months of this year while trying to cross the Central Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrants Project. At the same time, more than 19,000 people arrived in Italy, three times more than in the same period last year, according to Italy’s Ministry of the Interior.

Libyan authorities, coordinated by Maltese and Italian officials and with the support of commercial ships and private vessels, intercepted and returned to Libya more than 13,000 people during the first six months of 2021 — more than the 11,891 intercepted throughout the year. 2020, this according to the accounts of the International Rescue Committee, the NGO based in New York that maps the main humanitarian catastrophes in the world.