Illegal migrants rescued in Libya

Libya Ready to Shoot Refugee Rescue Boats on Sight

The Libyan coast guard has drawn a line in the water, threatening to shoot at charity ships if they get too close to Libyan territory, and traffic to Italy has slowed dramatically.

The Daily Beasts reports that the ongoing migrant boat crisis, which has lured more than 600,000 mostly sub-Saharan Africans to Italy and killed more than 10,000 since 2014, has reached a crucial turning point.

Over the weekend, three of the eight major nongovernmental organizations with migrant rescue operations announced they would suspend their search and rescue operations out of fear the Libyan coast guard would shoot at them. The suspensions come at a time when migrant arrivals in Italy have dropped around 70 percent compared to last year.

Make no mistake, the Libyans’ threat is real. In July, they fired shots in the air over a Spanish rescue vessel, warning it away from their territorial waters. And late last week, Libya’s navy announced that it would establish its own search and rescue zone off its international waters. Any smuggler boats with migrants would be “rescued” and taken back to Libyan ports. Likewise, any foreign vessels breaching that new search and rescue perimeter would be seen as aggressors and dealt with accordingly, Libyan coast guard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters.

The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome, which coordinates all distress calls and rescues in the Mediterranean, warned the rescue boats of “increased security risks” at the hands of the Libyan navy. In other words, they couldn’t promise that the Libyans wouldn’t shoot their ships.

In exchange for stopping the flow of smugglers’ boats, Libya has been promised a series of rewards, from investments in infrastructure to basic credibility for its fragile officially recognized government. In fact, not even a day passed between the first announcement of an NGO suspending its mission and Italy’s seeming call for funds to help the fragmented state.

“We need a significant, I repeat a significant European economic investment in Libya and in Africa,” Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, said on Sunday, calling on Europe to reward Libya for its part in stemming the flow of people into Italy.

The crackdown on migration from the Libyan side in exchange for economic rewards is highly reminiscent of a similar deal Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, made with Libya’s former ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2008 when Gaddafi had threatened to “open the spigot” and “turn Europe black” if Europe did not take him seriously.

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