Judith Sunderland – Why Cooperating with Libya On Migration Could Damage the EU’s Standing

The EU and Italy have a hidden agenda in training Libyan naval forces to intercept smugglers.

Italy and the Netherlands began training Libyan coast guard and navy officers on Italian and Dutch navy ships in the Mediterranean earlier in October. The training is part of the European Union’s anti-smuggling operation in the central Mediterranean with the goal of enhancing Libya’s “capability to disrupt smuggling and trafficking… and to perform search-and-rescue activities.”

What might sound like a straightforward and even laudable initiative is actually fraught with legal and ethical questions.

First, what will happen to people intercepted or rescued by the Libyan coast guard and navy? It’s likely that most, if not all, will end up in overcrowded, filthy detention centers in Libya where beatings, forced labor, and sexual violence are rife. Human Rights Watch (HRW) colleagues and I have spoken with hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers over the years regarding abuses they risk from officials, smugglers, and members of militias and criminal gangs in Libya.

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