EU aid fails to stem flow of refugees
Libyans complain of faulty boats
WHEN Libya’s coastguard received the first of a longawaited batch of patrol boats from Italy last month, two of the four vessels still had mechanical problems and one broke down on the way to Tripoli.
As Italy’s interior minister later flew in to present the boats officially at a naval base in the Libyan capital, coast guards grumbled that the vessels were old and had little deck space for rescued migrants.
“They want us to be Europe’s policeman. At the same time, that policeman needs resources.
“I challenge anyone to work in these conditions,” said naval coastguard spokesperson Ayoub Qassem.
At Tripoli’s Tariq al-Siqqa refugee centre, where visiting dignitaries are brought, flowers have been planted in the courtyard and washbasins installed.
But behind a padlocked metal gate hundreds of refugees still languish, crammed side-by-side on mattresses in a single unventilated room.
“They shut us up, they imprison us, they ask us for money,” said one 22-year-old from Guinea, who has been in the centre since March.
“They hit people. They don’t like black skin.”
The sea route from the Libyan coast is one of two main routes in the biggest flow of migrants to Europe since World War II.
The other, by sea from Turkey to Greece, was largely shut down last year after an agreement between the EU and Ankara, but the flow from Libya has only increased.
This year has already seen 70 000 people make the journey, with the summer peak season for the voyage only just beginning.
An estimated 2 000 have died so far this year.
Unlike Turkey, Libya is still seen as too dangerous for Europeans to send back refugees, so those who make it into international waters usually end up in Italy.
Libya’s people-smuggling networks flourished amid the upheaval that followed the death of former president Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011, and their trade surged after 2014, when conflict spread and rival governments were set up in Tripoli and the east.
Since last year, the EU has made a push to co-operate with a new Libyan government backed by the UN.
Coastguard training began on board EU ships in October.
In February, Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with Tripoli that the EU quickly endorsed, earmarking €90 million (R1.3 billion).
But Europe has delivered little concrete support, said Tarek Shanbour, a senior coastguard official. “We meet, we talk, we take decisions, we make agreements, but on the ground there is no execution.”
The Libyan government has little sway outside the capital or even over some of the ministries within it.
Its authority has been rejected in the east and is barely felt in the south where smugglers bring refugees in across the Sahara.
“So far we can’t say as the EU we’ve achieved much,” an EU official said on condition of anonymity.
“The point is we need short-term solutions but there are no short term-solutions. There is no Turkey deal in North Africa.”
As European policy makers study longer-term schemes to improve security on Libya’s southern borders, wean communities off smuggling, and provide aid in refugees’ countries of origin, Libyan officials worry that numbers inside Libya will swell.
They say they have little capacity to host migrants in a country deep in economic crisis, where nearly 250 000 are still internally displaced.
European funding has helped increase voluntary repatriations of refugees caught in Libya who agree to return home, but this is unlikely to surpass 10 000 this year.
Men sit on the deck of the Golfo Azzurro vessel after being rescued by members of the Spanish non-governmental organisation Open Arms on the Mediterranean sea, 32km north of Zuwarah, Libya.