Libyan coast guards 'colluding with human traffickers'

TRAPANI- “Major collusion between the Libyan coast guards and human traffickers” has been reported in the sequestration order for the Iuventa NGO boat. Regional magistrates accused Tripoli Coast Guards of facilitating rescue efforts between human traffickers and NGO boats by helping convoy traffickers’ dinghies to the NGO boats and aiding the transfer of migrants between boats.

“The delivery of migrants [onto NGO boats] is characterised by the passive presence of motor vessels”, said Trapani’s Public Prosecutor. Migrants are believed to leave the port of Trapani on rubber boats at the hands of human traffickers and are rescued at sea by NGO-run vessels. Libyan coast guards, who requested support from the Italian navy in their fight against human traffickers, are now accused of working with the traffickers.   

The NGO boat Iuventa, owned by the German organisation Jugend Rettet, was seized by authorities in Trapani on the night of August 1 after departing from Lampedusa. It was the first ship to be blocked since the Italian Ministry of the Interior approved a “Code of Conduct” for NGOs working in the Mediterranean. If an NGO doesn’t sign, it is refused docking rights on Italian soil. It was signed only by three NGOs, not including Jugend Rettet. The boat was then seized by authorities for “presumed co-operation with smugglers”, according to Trapani’s Public Prosecutor, who confirmed the suspicions after further inquiry.

“At 6.15 am on June 18 2017,” the magistrates wrote reconstructing one of three episodes which Jugend Rettet is being investigated for, “an unidentified boat and a Libyan coast guard motor vessel escorted three boats full of migrants in the open sea around Zwara whereIuventa was stationed and then left immediately after the boarding operation of migrants onto the ship started. This process unmistakably demonstrates… an “agreed delivery” of migrants.” The report continued: “The Libyan coast guards passively assisted in the transferal of migrants on board the Iuventa ship without intervening to identify and check the boats used by traffickers during their departure.” Two other similar cases have been reported to magistrates.

The criminal proceedings were instigated following a statement made by Pietro Gallo, an employee of a security firm working with Vos Hestia, a search-and-rescue ship of NGO Save the Children. On June 1 2017, he told magistrates that on May 5, “11 boats with migrants on-board were in the rescue zone. Aquarius and Iuventa were present. The Libyan coast guards were also present in this stretch of sea. A large vessel, without any means of identification, was there… [from which came] a series of gunshots” although no-one was hurt. Gallo noted that there was no response from the Libyan guards.

Under the government of Libyan President Fayez Al Sarraj, there are two different official coast guards: one under the Ministry of Defence and the other under the Ministry of the Interior and it is often unclear which is which. The Italian government is currently working with Libyan coast guards to offer support against human traffickers, therefore this report of collusion between the latter two is set to raise a few questions in government.