The spokesman of the Libyan Navy, Brigadier Ayoub Qasim, has lashed out at EU’s Operation Sophia, saying it’s propaganda for political gains. In an interview with the Libya Observer on Sunday 21, Qasim has also accused the EU countries of taking part in stealing Libya’s marine resources.
– Libya has become unable to face the opportunist EU countries such as Italy.
– We refuse to build tents and camps for the African immigrants.
– The EU and the UN do not have the will to fight illegal immigration.
– Operation Sophia is propaganda used in the political conflict, the race for power, money and economy in Europe.
– The EU countries are guilty of smuggling Libya’s fuel and undermining its economy.
– Italy refuses to hand over four navy boats to Libya.
– Italy wants to have more time to continue stealing Libya’s resources and smuggling its fuel.
– The EU will only help Libya when terrorists sneak their way through to Europe alongside immigrants.
– We do not need EU training; we need boats and other equipment.
Libya Observer: There were agreements signed by Libya and Italy before 2011 to monitor Libya’s southern borders and set up an electronic integrated border control management system. Also in April 2012, the two countries agreed to renew the “Sah-Med” project aimed at preventing the flow of migrants from the Sahara desert towards the Mediterranean, Why were those agreements not activated?
Brig. Qasim: This question should have been asked to the Libyan governments that were in control of Libya one after another. We know that all countries look for their interests first and so was Italy and the rest of the countries which were at some point – when Libya was stable and had strong economy – dependent on Libya in many fields especially in the oil and gas industry.
The former regime used to have pressing cards to use them against Italy and others because they saw that it was establishing itself in Africa and used piles of money to use its African strong ties to pressure the European countries, particularly Italy, with the illegal immigration issue.
The former regime used to resort to the illegal immigration pressing card by opening the route for the African nationals, thus Libya is now suffering from the aftermath of such policy used by the former regime because the African nationals knew the route to Europe very well and are using it solely, for Libya after February 17 revolution had lost that pressing card.
Political conflict and division made Libya’s government lose its strong pressing cards as they split among the warring parties within the country and thus Libya has become unable to face the opportunist EU countries such as Italy.
Since Libya has become infirm and has lost those who gasp for its rights, then those countries will abstain from doing their jobs as per the agreements they signed with Libya. Unfortunately, we do not have any power that can pressure Italy in the foreign and diplomatic contexts to force it to apply the agreements it had signed with Libya. The bottom line is, diplomatic and political weakness led to the halt of all agreements with the European countries.
Libya Observer: In April of this year, the Italian Foreign Minister called for signing an agreement between the EU and Libya to organize the immigration flows into Europe, just like the EU-Turkey agreement. What do you think of this call, and is it beneficial for Libya?
Brig. Qasim: The situation of the Turkish deal with the EU is different from Libya’s situation for the refugees in Turkey all come mostly from one country, Syria, which we all know that its crisis is temporary and its citizens could be great asset to the Turkish economy as they are active and educated unlike Libya’s situation, where the migrants come from the whole continent of Africa whose migrants come poor, uneducated and with a complete family.
Libya cannot make use of those migrants neither in developing the economy nor in workforce. Dealing with over 50 countries makes difficult for Libya to strike a deal similar to that of Turkey.
Libya’s economy, security situation and population, unlike those of Turkey, also make it difficult to have such an agreement. If we made such an agreement in Libya and the African migrants remained inside the country, who would bear the burden of providing for or integrating them into our society given the deteriorated security we are going through.
So it is illogical to agree on what the EU is trying to impose on Libya because we refuse to be the homeland of the immigrants, who come from stable countries and stable governments. We refuse to build tents and camps for the immigrants from South Africa, Senegal, Chad Ghana, Burkina Faso and the like.
The EU should not impose on Libya such an agreement that can endanger the security and demographic situations in the country as those migrants have stable countries and are in no need for another homeland.
Libya Observer: You recently confirmed that IS militants won’t be able to escape via the sea. Isn’t it difficult, given the available equipment you have and the vast area they use for escape, to predict that?
Brig. Qasim: First, I ask Allah’s mercy on the souls of martyrs in Sirte and I wish the fighters there a quick victory over Daesh. Second, we have not confirmed that news. Regarding the confirmation announced by Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos, it is up to them. Their confirmation came after they trapped IS militants in an area of no more than 5 km from all frontlines, so some of the militants might have escaped, that is why we don’t take their confirmation for granted. The vastness of the area and the big number of buildings may have allowed IS militants to make their escape disguising as ordinary residents among families. Therefore, it isn’t that real confirmation for us; it is a question Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos spokesman can answer as we as the Navy Force cannot make any assumptions.
Libya Observer: EU’s Operation Sophia failed to cut off the flow of migrants from Libya into Italy. Why? Does Sophia aim at stemming the influx of illegal migrants or does it have other ends? Why the EU did not coordinate with Libya as it is a crossing-point county?
Brig. Qasim: There isn’t a true will to end the illegal immigration phenomenon neither from the EU nor from the UN. The operations we hear about now are nothing but propaganda used in the political conflict, the race for power, money and economy in Europe. Europe has benefited from those illegal immigrants – especially those from Africa – as they are young and active plus being ready to do their duties and never ask for their rights.
So Sophia has not failed indeed as it is a good example for the EU double standards policy. They talk about human rights and the rights of the workforce but at the same time they let those African immigrants take up the perilous deadly voyage on dinghies across the ocean.
Some die and some others arrive, yet they are all victims of the EU policies. Not only Sophia, the EU also has Triton, and Frontex operations with the EU Special Joint Forces and Coast Guard.
They formed a force to operate in the west of the Mediterranean, so we have already been listed under the Triton Operation, why found another operation (Sophia) and use military personnel in it.
Do we need military soldiers to intercept and rescue civilian boats and immigrants? No, those civilians need care and protection, not army personnel with guns and pistols. I think when the EU saw that the southern part of the Mediterranean, which lies opposite to Europe, especially the part that overlooks North African countries, had been reshaped by the revolutions as well as the security unrest, it wanted to form a permanent military force to be in the Mediterranean at all times.
Thus, the EU formed Sophia on the pretext of fighting illegal immigration when it really lies ready to protect Europe from any threat they think is posed against their security. They even took the operation too far so that they added inspection of ships as a feature for the Sophia jobs in the Mediterranean, saying all ships coming to and from Libya must be inspected for arms. Therefore, Sophia is not there to stem the immigrants’ flow and that is clear by the fact that the number of immigrants crossing to Europe via Libya has skyrocketed as Sophia ships’ presence in the water saved the migrants plenty of miles.
Libya Observer: There is another phenomenon taking place off the Libyan coast – fuel smuggling and illegal fishing – Does the Libyan Coast Guard have the ability to end this phenomenon? What do you ask of the EU to help you end it?
Brig. Qasim: Unfortunately, this illegal phenomenon is happing while the EU and the UN are watching because the European countries are guilty of it.
They are guilty of smuggling Libya’s fuel and undermining the Libyan economy whether by smuggling fuel or by illegal fishing. European trawlers and other fishing boats are now stealing Libya’s marine resources. They are intentionally abstaining from helping the Libyan Coast Guard.
Take Italy for example, we have four boats in Italy. We sent them for maintenance four years ago and in August 2014 they were ready for use, yet Italy has been making excuses for not handing them back to Libya ever since, saying the security situation is obscure and there is no government that can officially receive them. However, it is clear that Italy want to have more time to continue stealing Libya’s resources and smuggling its fuel.
So if you ask me, since we do not have the willingness and unity as well as a strong government and good foreign policy, then the Libyan Navy or Coast Guard will not receive any help from the EU, unless the help they will provide would be beneficial to them.
Once Europe fells stuffed by the immigrants coming to it via Libya or once terrorists sneak their way through to Europe alongside immigrants, only then will the EU help us.
Libya Observer: The EU promised that it will train the Libyan Coastguard personnel. Why hasn’t the training started yet?
Brig. Qasim: This is also related to the propaganda I talked about it. We told the EU that we do not need training, but we need boats and other equipment. Europe should pay for the Navy and Coast Guard personnel; it should pay Libya for the burden of fighting the illegal immigration.
The EU has to pay the Coast Guard and the Illegal Immigration Fight Authority as well as the southern border guards, who are all protecting the European countries in one way or another. In doing so, Libya is doing its humanitarian and regional duty – not being opportunistic and interest-oriented – by protecting the borders, respecting the international conventions that oblige it to cut off the migration influx. Libya’s Navy and Coast Guard do not want training, we have training expertise, and we want the EU to provide technical equipment and to pay for the burden Libya has been shouldering for so long now.
We do not want to be fooled by the propaganda of the EU that will show it as the savior of Libya from immigration by saying it is training our personnel, they are working to maintain Libya’s status quo. We don’t want training, we want the EU to stop stealing our resources be them fuel or fish or anything else.
Libya Observer: Any final word?
Brig. Qasim: I ask all the conflicting parties and the officials in Libya to be aware of what they are going through and of the amount of damage that has been done to the country so far. If we do not reach a compromise and unite ourselves in Libya, then no party will ever come out triumphant from this conflict because the loss will be the whole country.
I also ask the Government of National Accord to communicate with Europe more seriously regarding the Libyan Navy and the Libyan borders because it still has a strong pressing card that can use to put pressure on the EU. The Government of National Accord must contact the Navy Force and the Coast Guard so that it becomes familiar with what they both need so that we do not let the EU tell us what we need.
I also send a message to the EU countries and I tell them that the more they try to exploit Libya, the guiltier they will feel when they discover the mistakes they had made by being opportunistic and inappreciative of the sacrifices and historical ties that the Libyan people have made and are still making now to see their country playing the role of the good neighbor to other countries.
We refuse to go back to the bygone times of pirates and the conflict between Europe and North Africa. We want the Mediterranean, especially the part where we are located, to be the sea of tranquility and luxury in order to use it in developing our citizens’ potentials and in boosting peacefulness in Libya.