On the 21st October 2016, members of the Libyan Coastguard (LCG) boarded an overloaded rubber boat, beat the people on board and prevented the Sea-Watch crew from distributing lifejackets. Through this brutal behaviour and the attempt to bring the boat back to Libya, an air chamber in the boat was destroyed and mass panic broke out on board.
Almost all of the 150 people fell into the water and around 30 drowned before the eyes of our crew.
The European Union has been training this very same Libyan Coastguard for the last few months and supplied it with 200 million Euros. The focus of European support is not, however, on an improvement of the situation of migrants and refugees in need. On the contrary: illegal push-backs and armed violence have become everyday occurrences off the Libyan coast and fit into the European paradigm of isolation. As long as no legitimate democratic structures exist in Libya that are in a position to guarantee compliance with human rights, cooperation with this so-called Coastguard must be questioned.
The humanitarian catastrophe at the borders of Europe necessitates a humanitarian response. We demand that the German government reject further militarisation and isolation, and instead use its influence within the EU as much as possible in order that:
1. a civil humanitarian mission with the explicit mandate for rescue at sea be established.
2. all cooperation with the Libyan Coastguard be contingent on a system of monitoring and sanctions which will ensure compliance with international law off the Libyan coast. This is an integral part of the non-refoulement principle, which forbids the return of migrants and refugees from international waters to Libya.
3. cooperation with the LCG be immediately put on hold in the case of repeated human rights violations.
4. the LCG be trained to follow the rules of the high seas in order to support rescue missions, instead of endangering refugees and migrants as well as civil rescue operations.**
5. the LCG be trained to respect international human rights law and the law of the sea, including the principle of non-refoulement.
6. the plans for a new Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Libya be halted. It is unacceptable to abdicate control over rescue missions to a land in the grip of civil war where the rule of law is in no way present.
The European policy of isolation has the aim of preventing those with a right to protection from violence and torture from reaching Europe. To achieve this, the EU even works together with oppressive regimes. Particularly questionable is the cooperation with the Libyan Coastguard, whose members disregard the international law of the sea and the Geneva Refugee Convention – even though they have been trained for months by European and German marines.
The situation in the Mediterranean is escalating daily, partly because the coastguard trained by the EU acts ever more aggressively. On 23rd May and 15th June, shots were fired during rescue operations of SOS MEDITERRANEE, Jugend Rettet and Proactiva Open Arms outside Libyan territorial waters. On 10th May, the crew of the Libyan patrol boat 206 even put our on crew in mortal danger. Its captain cut across Sea-Watch 2 in a dangerous manoeuvre in order to reach an overloaded wooden boat as soon as possible. With a weapon in hand, he forced the refugees and migrants back to Libya, where torture, exploitation and rape threaten. Human Rights Watch expressed “deep concerns” about the EU strategy of giving Libyan authorities the task of stopping maritime migration to Europe. In June, the UN spoke of a “human rights crisis” in Libya, where there is no safe harbour.
Dubious militias supported with European tax money
Just how unpredictable the various militia groups are which call themselves the “Libyan Coastguard” and are sponsored by the EU is made clear by a report from Michael Obert. The journalist describes in the SZ-Magazine how commander Al-Bija seized control over the harbour of the Libyan town of Zawiya through a bloody battle. “Then they created their own crest, dreamt up military ranks for themselves, called themselves the ‘Libyan Coastguard of Zawiya’ and set off into the Mediterranean.”
Members of the LCG are furthermore suspected of being bound up in the business operations of traffickers and smugglers. For this reason, we are also urging the German government to question this cooperation. It should be out of the question that financial support from Germany could support the illegal trade in people and in this way perpetuate those structures whose dismantling should in fact be the focus of cooperation. The German government is aware of the connection between the LCG and the smugglers. This is clear from a confidential comment by the Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office, Michael Roth (SPD). That the German government nevertheless continues cooperation with and financing of the LCG with an enormous budget is shocking.
The EU must take responsibility for human rights on its external borders
Currently, all civil rescue missions follow the commands of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome. Human rights organisations have strongly criticised European plans to hand over coordination of rescue at sea to Libya. Through these plans, they are “failing to ensure the maximum level of protection” of those in distress, according to the latest report from Amnesty International. So long as there is no prospect of the rule of law in Libya, it is absolutely unacceptable to hand over responsibility for rescue in the international waters off the Libyan coast.
The European Union has decided to hand over its border policing to dubious partners. But precisely for these reason, it bears the responsibility for the consequences of this policy. Human rights specialist Nora Markard explains in an interview with ARD: “The European Union and the German government are of course aware of the situation in Libya […] by providing support they are also responsible and make themselves liable.”
What is required to end the humanitarian crisis at the borders of Europe is an EU-mandate for a non-military rescue system. We need a clear recognition of maritime rescue from Europe, and we need it from you, Mrs. Merkel!
Human Rights Watch Report 19.06: www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/19/eu-shifting-rescue-libya-risks-lives
UN Final Report of the Panel of Experts on Libya 01.06: undocs.org/S/2017/466
Amnesty Report 22.05: www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur30/6319/2017/en/
Report by Michael Obert in the SZ-Magazin 08.06: www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/fluechtlinge-in-libyen-die-menschenfaenger-1.3537527