Libyan coastguard stops migrant rescues

The Libyan coastguard has not been operating in its maritime rescue zone over the past month, according to reports from German search and rescue NGO Sea-Eye.

Instead, they are being deployed for combat operations in the civil war between Haftar Libyan National Army and the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord. Some of these boats were supplied to Libya by Italy and France.

The Libyan coastguard has largely been responsible for rescues in the Mediterranean Sea, in the absence of NGO rescue boats and the halting of Operation Sophia’s naval operations. Between 1 January and 1 May 2019, 257 people lost their lives while attempting to migrate to Europe from Libya by sea, according to latest data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“Obviously, the government of Tripoli has its own problems instead of dealing with EU border protection,” says Gorden Isler, a spokesperson for the German humanitarian rescue organisation Sea-Eye.

Italian newspaper Avvenire quoted UN sources in Tripoli saying that the Libyan coastguard had done only 12 rescues in 2019 before the escalation of the conflict. This is less than one rescue per week.

Those fortunate enough to be rescued are detained in war-torn Libya where thousands are already trapped.  Some centres have been abandoned by guards leaving migrants to be exposed to attacks by soldiers from the Libyan National Army.

On the night of 7 April 2019, airstrikes hit the Tajoura detention centre grounds in Tripoli where women migrants are detained. Shrapnel from the blast tore the roof of the shelter and nearly hit an infant, MSF reports.

“We are trapped, we are suffering, we are shaken by this war,” MSF quotes an Eritrean man at the centre as saying.

UNHCR Africa and Mediterranean spokesperson Charlie Yaxley said on Twitter, “There is no safe haven in Libya, but no State or NGO boats carrying out search & rescue. Absolutely clear, things cannot continue as they are.”

TMP – 15/05/2019

Photo credit: Anjo Kan / Shutterstock

Photo caption: Refugees on a rubber boat on the Mediterranean.