Libya’s Coast Guard Tried To Prevent Rescue Of Migrants In The Mediterranean, A German Charity Says

CAIRO (AP) — A German charity has accused the Libyan coast guard of threatening its crew members who were rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, causing at least one migrant to drown.

The German charity SOS Humanity, which operates the rescue ship Humanity 1, said the Libyan coast guard used violence and fired live bullets into the water during its “life-threatening intervention” on Saturday.

The charity said that many migrants who were aboard three unseaworthy boats bound for Europe were forced to jump into the water. The Humanity 1 managed to rescue 77 migrants, but many others were forced on board a Libyan coast guard boat, “separating at least six family members from each other,” it said.

At least one migrant drowned, it added.

A spokesman for the Libyan coast guard didn’t respond to phone calls and messages seeking comment.

Since 2015, the European Union has been funding the Libyan coast guard as part of efforts to stem the flow of migrants from the North African country towards Italian shores. As part of the deal, the coast guard has intercepted migrants in Libyan and international waters and has returned them to Libya.

Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, even though the North African nation has plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

“Threatening crew members of search-and-rescue vessels and risking the lives of people in need of protection is a gross violation of international law,” SOS Humanity said.

In March last year, the Libyan coast guard fired warning shots as it attempted to rescue migrants from a packed ship, according to the SOS Mediterranee group, which also rescues migrants at sea. In October 2022, another rescue group, Sea-Watch, said the coast guard threatened to shoot down its plane used to monitor the sea for smugglers and migrant vessels.

Human traffickers in recent years have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders, which it shares with six nations. The migrants are crowded onto ill-equipped vessels, including rubber boats, and set off on risky sea voyages.

According to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, at least 962 migrants were reported dead and 1,563 missing off Libya in 2023. Around 17,200 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya last year.

Those who are intercepted and returned to Libya are held in government-run detention centers rife with abuses, including forced labor, beatings, rapes and torture — practices that amount to crimes against humanity, according to U.N.-commissioned investigators.

The abuse often accompanies attempts to extort money from the families of the imprisoned migrants before allowing them to leave Libya on traffickers’ boats to Europe.


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