Libyan coastguard 'tried to ram' NGO boat

Libyan Coastguard

 ROME-- Mounting concern after reports of Libyan coastguards, trained and led by the Italian interior ministry, intimidating migrant-packed NGO vessels off the coast of Tripoli.

 The latest scandal in the migrant crisis reveals worrying behaviour from the Libyan coastguard, who on May 10 targeted a boat driven by Seawatch, the German NGO, at the time carrying around 600 migrants rescued from an overflowing vessel headed for Italy. One of the two coastguard vessels tried to ram the migrant-packed boat, as shown in a video uploaded by the charity, while the other boarded the ship and took it back to Libya, where those on board were no doubt destined for one of infamous militia-run detention camps.

 Officially, the coastguard follows orders from the Libyan government, but seeing as any official state has long since ceased to exist in the North African country, in reality it’s the Italian government that’s calling the shots. The redirection of the Seawatch ship was likely part of the Minister of the Interior, Marco Minniti’s, ‘Viminale’ scheme to stem the flow of migrant traffic crossing the Med, maritime sources speculated.

 It’s understandable that politicians would want to take definitive action on the crisis at hand, given that it’s putting the Italian infrastructure under serious strain, but this most recent move has received harsh criticism from the international community. The scheme has been labelled as grossly irresponsible as it blocks off the last remaining route out of Libya, where around 150,000 to 180,000 migrants remain trapped, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

 The living conditions in the North African country have been described as “unacceptable” by the IOM, with migrants often suffering horrendous abuse at the hands of the military captors, and with only 6,000 so far granted access to medicine and liveable sleeping conditions.

 Libya’s critically unstable state has been confirmed by ION, the UN and various NGOs, and further demonstrated by documents collected by the International Penal Court, yet Italy, and by extension the EU continue to bury their heads in the sand. Minniti and co are conveniently ignoring the lack of unified, official rule in Libya, claiming that by throwing money at the ‘government’ of the stateless country they have done their bit in tackling the humanitarian crisis gripping the world.

 The aim  at the Viminale, the interior ministry building, is to stop transiting boats and send them back to the Libyan mainland where they will be met by, according to Minniti “refugee camps under the watch of the UN High Commission for refugees and the IOM,” already financed by the European Commission with 90 million euros. He added that the camps will make “easier the assisted voluntary repatriation procedures,” thus sending away all ‘economic’ migrants.

 What the Minister of the Interior failed to mention, however, is that these magic UN camps can only exist when it’s safe for their workers to be on the ground in Libya, which is unlikely to be the case for the foreseeable future. Further, if the UN were in Libya, they’d undoubtedly recognise the right that these migrants have to international protection, given their immense vulnerability.

 So while the Italian government continues to bicker over whether various NGOs are secretly in cahoots with Libyan traffickers, it only seems fair for them to hold up the mirror to their own actions, and appreciate their irresponsible nature, observers say.