The Libyan coastguard called for more European aid to upgrade its “obsolete” fleet, warning it would not otherwise work to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean next year.
Tuesday’s appeal came as the UN slammed as “inhuman” the EU’s policy of helping Libyan authorities intercept migrants at sea and return them to “horrific” prisons in the North African country.
Colonel Abu Ajila Abdelbarri of the Libyan coastguard said that by the start of next year’s migration season in spring it might not be able to afford operations to rescue survivors or target migrant boats in Libyan waters. “We will not be able to carry out search and rescue missions.”
Summer saw a 75 percent drop in the numbers of migrants leaving Libya for Europe compared with the same period in 2016, with 60 percent fewer dying at sea, the European naval force charged with stopping people trafficking in the Mediterranean said in October.
But on Tuesday, UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein slammed “the European Union’s policy of assisting the Libyan coast guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean (as) inhuman”.
“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity,” he said.
An EU spokesperson said Brussels was funding UN agencies in Libya working to beef up the coastguard and to protect migrants.
“We believe that the detention centres in Libya must be closed. The situation in these camps is unacceptable”, the spokesperson said in a statement sent to AFP.
Abdelbarri said the coastguard needed European backers “to provide us with ships and especially to repair the ones we have”.
Navy spokesman General Ayoub Qassem also called for greater European cooperation with Libyan authorities, and reiterated criticism of NGOs rescuing migrants near the Libyan coast.
“We are extending our hands to countries, and not to NGOs whose agendas we do not know,” he said.
“We call on Europe to cooperate with the navy and support it.”
Meanwhile, tensions between NGOs running search and rescue operations off Libya and the coastguard, which has an agreement with Italy to stem the flow of departures, have continued to simmer.
Last week, five migrants including a young child died as result of a “violent, reckless” and “illegal” intervention by Libya’s coastguard in a rescue in international waters, a German charity group said.
Sea Watch, one of several NGOs which operate search-and-rescue boats in the Mediterranean, said the lives had been lost needlessly because of heavy handed tactics of a coastguard being trained and financed by the European Union.
The Libyan coastguard in turn accused Sea Watch of causing “panic and confusion” among the migrants.
According to the latest figures from the International Organisation for Migration, published on Tuesday, about 157,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe by sea since January 1, 75 percent of them landing in Italy. Nearly 3,000 died attempting the perilous sea crossing.