Sea Watch urges EU to give a second thought on training Libyan coastguards after recent attack
Sea Watch – a German aid group – urged the European Union on Tuesday to reconsider its plans to train Libyan forces to conduct sea rescue operations after a vessel labeled as belonging to them attacked a dinghy full of migrants last week.
Dozens of African migrants were feared dead in the incident, which the spokesman of the Libyan Navy Ayoub Qasim denied.
Sea-Watch, a privately-funded group that operates a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, said the attack early Friday showed it was important for the EU to scrutinize who exactly it was training and giving equipment to.
“We have called on them (the EU) to reconsider the training missions,” said Ruben Neugebauer, a spokesman for the Berlin-based group. “We fear that in the course of this cooperation (with the Libyan coast guard) much more terrible things will happen.” AP reported.
Photos released by the group show what appears to be a Libyan coast guard vessel with 15 crew members on board — some armed — intercepting the rescue operation. In one picture a man in uniform is seen walking through the packed dinghy while another shows the alleged coast guards manipulating the front of the fragile boat.
Neugebauer said the dinghy ruptured shortly afterward, resulting in panic as migrants tried to reach the rescue vessel. About 120 people were rescued alive, while four bodies were recovered, he said.
While it wasn’t clear what the Libyan crew were trying to do and which faction of the country’s many armed groups they belonged to, their actions couldn’t be interpreted as a bungled rescue attempt, said Neugebauer.
Sea-Watch said satellite tracking data show the incident happened almost 3 nautical miles outside Libya’s territorial zone in international waters.
It said a court in Palermo, Sicily, has opened an investigation into the case after the survivors — mostly migrants from sub-Saharan Africa — were brought ashore.
The EU plans to start training 1,000 Libyan coast guards in the coming days after repeated delays caused by the need to conduct security checks on the applicants to make sure they aren’t members of Islamic extremist groups or supporters of Libya’s deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The EU hopes the measure will help reduce the flow of migrants crossing to Italy from Libya. The North African nation has become a magnet for migrants because the conflict in the country has left its borders largely unguarded.
Due to the instability in Libya the training will take place aboard Dutch and Italian naval vessels.
The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that the number of migrants who died trying to cross the Mediterranean reached 3,740 during the first 10 months of the year. In all of 2015 a total of 3,771 deaths were recorded.
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