While the EU welcomes a sharp drop in migrant arrivals, Libya’s Coast Guard is overwhelmed and complains of empty European promises

On the northern side of the Mediterranean, EU officials speak of the success of multi-million-euro programmes that bring fewer migrants to European shores. On the southern side, the Libyan naval Coast Guard is dispirited and struggling to cope with an ever-growing backlog of up to a million mostly sub-Saharan Africans determined to reach Europe.

EU initiatives are credited with dramatically reducing the number of migrants and refugees reaching and attempting to reach Europe by sea from Libya on one of the world’s deadliest migration routes. But Libyan officials say factors within Libya played a greater role, and are calling on the EU to honour pledges of support while warning of a busier summer ahead.

The EU points to a 74-percent drop in migrants and refugees arriving in Europe via the Central Mediterranean route in the first four months of this year compared to last: 9,567 versus 41,165 in 2017. This is proof the new policies are working, EU officials say, noting that the route is largely served by smuggler vessels leaving Libyan shores.

But seven years after the 2011 NATO-led intervention that ousted longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi and ushered in a period of enduring instability and civil conflicts in Libya, Coast Guard officials here see a very different picture.

Under-resourced and overwhelmed, they accuse the EU of failing to provide enough support and predict any success in reducing arrivals to Europe will be short-lived as it is more down to changing local factors than EU policy-making.

“We’ve had endless meetings with EU representatives since 2011, and they claim to understand our position and make many promises,” General Ayoub Ghassem, the spokesman for the Libyan naval Coast Guard, told IRIN in a recent interview at Tripoli’s naval base. “But the reality, in the field, is that we find nothing, and virtually no implementation of promises.”

Much of the EU’s collaboration with Libya comes under Operation Sophia. Launched in 2015 to neutralise smuggling routes in the Mediterranean, the EU broadened the military operation’s mandate in 2016 to include training the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy and, later, enforcing a UN arms embargo – it was extended again in 2017.

Source: irinnews