Libyan Coastguard

Nowadays, there are countless news articles that start with”Libyan Coastguard rescues...”. You may see, thousands of people “intercepted” and returning back to Libya.  Every time I’ve seen such keywords, I check the dictionaryWe all know the real meaning of rescuing, right?

Despite its unstable political atmosphere, Libya is one of the EU’s most reliable partners for curbing migrant flows.


“The EU’s Pirate Partners”

According to recent IOM data, 103,297 people have arrived on Italian shores in 2017, while 2,470 have died en route. Italy is still the country most affected by the rising flows of migrants, who mainly come from Sub-Saharan countries. Since there is no effective relocation mechanism within the EU, the country stands alone against this uptick in migration.



On August 2, Italy announced the deployment of two military ships to Libyan Coastguard “in an effort to deter illegal migration and human smuggling into Europe“. Also, Italy’s Carabinieri started to train Libyan Police, Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti says.

Under the Operation Sophia, the EU introduced new training modules for the Libyan Coastguard on September 17. The official press release enumerates the reasons for this action:

– to increase the security of Libyan territorial waters,

– to implement the capacities of the Libyan Coastguard and Navy to perform their duties.

– enhancing the capacity in basics of maritime security skills.

So, these steps aim “to disrupt smuggling and trafficking” in Libya. In doing so, the EU shows its strong intention to decrease the number of deaths in the Mediterranean. “We have drastically reduced the loss of life in the Mediterranean,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, in his speech two weeks ago. Actually, it seems true when you just take a look at the current situation in the Mediterranean. However, there is something more important behind the data shown to us. Before talking about that, let’s look at the “rescue” operations of Libyan Coastguard.


Disputed “Rescue” Operations

In August, 3,914 sea arrivals were recorded . However, the number was 21,294 in the same period of the previous year. Thus, there is a steep decline in sea arrivals.    

Most of the latest rescue operations of Libyan Coastguard were staged in the cities of Zawiya and Sabratha, the main destinations of irregular migrants.  

On September 17, Libya’s coastguard has rescued over 3,000 migrants aiming to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in the past week, while Italy picked up another 2,000 in recent days, officials and reports claimed


Demanding Strict Rules for the Libyan Coastguard

After all illegal interventions of the Libyan authorities, voices were raised against this disorderly way of dealing with the humanitarian crisis.

Sea-Watch demands that the training of the Libyan Coastguard be contingent on strict conditions. “Europe must decide between human rights and resistance to migration. Any support for the so-called Libyan Coastguard should be stopped until it can be guaranteed that the units in question orient their behavior in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Axel Grafmanns, CEO of Sea-Watch. “Everyone has the right to leave their country. Refoulement to Libya is not only a humanitarian disaster but also simply illegal, and must not be tolerated by the EU.  Let alone funded by it. We are therefore pleased that the International Criminal Court is taking the matter in hand.”  


Mediterranean refugees Libyan Coastguard
Refugees on a boat crossing the Mediterranean sea

“Respect Our Sovereignty!”

The NGO decided to take the initiative of starting a legal process. It comes after the incident on 10th May in which a patrol boat belonging to the Libyan Coastguard dangerously cut across the bow of a Sea-Watch ship in order to subsequently reach a wooden boat with lots of people on board. The Libyan captain forced the migrants to stop their boat at gunpoint. At the final stage, they were forced back to Tripoli and from there to the infamous Libyan detention centers known for their inhumane conditions.

On the other hand, in August, Doctors Without Borders decided to temporarily suspend the activity of its rescue operations after numerous threats from the Libyan Coastguard. It has increasingly become more aggressive in patrolling the waters off its coasts where human traffickers launch boats crowded with migrants desperate to reach Europe. The aid group announced that the ongoing Libyan threats pose a security risk. DWB (MSF) added that the Libyan Coastguard extended their own rescue area into international waters on the same day.

On August 7, Proactiva Open Arms, a Catalan aid NGO, claimed that the Libyan Coastguard threatened and fired warning shots at the rescue boat.



Recently, the Libyan Coastguard warned it will seize NGO boats on rescue missions which enter its waters without getting permission, after a run-in September 27 with a German vessel during which a warning shot was fired. “These NGOs must respect our authority and our sovereignty. Our patience has reached its limit,” Navy spokesman General Ayub Kacem said.


Apparently, we will be talking about this issue for a while. The European Union should be more rigorous in choosing its partners. Otherwise, it will cause serious damage to its image in the long run.