A bleak assessment by European border officials of the turmoil in Libya is casting doubt on the prospects for European Union efforts to work more closely with authorities in the strife-torn country to curb migration flows across the Mediterranean.
The internal report was disclosed as the country’s Red Crescent reported Tuesday that at least 74 bodies had washed ashore on Libya’s Mediterranean coast near the western city of Zawiya. It’s the latest tragedy at sea after a year that has seen record numbers in migrant deaths along key smuggling routes.
FILE- In this Feb. 3, 2017 file photo, migrants and refugees wait to be helped by members of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, as they crowd aboard a rubber boat sailing out of control in the Mediterranean Sea about 21 miles north of Sabratha, Libya.
The report by officials with the EU Border Assistance Mission in Libya paints a grim picture of factional dysfunction and chaos within Libyan law enforcement bodies and its ministries, which are barely operating.
“Due to the absence of a functioning national government, genuine and legitimate state structures are difficult to identify, in particular, given the dynamic and ever changing landscape of loyalties,” the officials say in their 56-page report, which was leaked to the website statewatch.org.
The Ministry of Interior, the border officials say, is riddled with “militias and religiously motivated stakeholders; the Ministry of Defense “has little or no control of the armed forces,” which also are militia dependent; and the Customs’ General Directorate for Anti-Smuggling and Enforcement is “barely functioning due to the security situation.”
Lack of accountability
On the Libyan police, the report notes that 70 percent of the members are thuwwars (members of armed militias), who are not accountable to any central authorities. Women won’t approach the police out of fear “they could be murdered or raped,” warn the officials.
The judicial system has “in essence collapsed,” according to the report.
“Few courts are operational because both court premises have been bombed and judicial actors [prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers] encounter threats and dangers in the line of their duties. Attacks targeting the judiciary directly affect the administration of justice and the rule of law and terrorism,” according to the report.
The Libyan Coastal Guard (LCGPS) is one of the few law enforcement bodies praised by the European border officials. It notes the guards have little in the way of equipment to patrol Libyan waters and intercept and rescue migrants.
FILE – African illegal migrants wait to receive medial assistance after being rescued by coast guards, in Tripoli, Libya, April 11, 2016. More than 100 migrants were rescued by two coastal guards on Monday after their boat started sinking in the sea.
The LCGPS fleet consists of only four fast 14.5-meter-long boats, three small fiberglass boats and an undefined number of dinghy boats of just 12 meters long. The Libyan coastal guards own also four large Coastal Patrol Vessels, but all are currently in Naples for maintenance.
“Despite the lack of technical means, the LCGPS has rescued more than 13,500 immigrants in close cooperation with the Italian Guardia Costiera,” the report says.
The report estimates there are at last 1,500 militia groups in the country.
FILE – Migrants are rescued by the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean Sea, in this picture released on Jan. 28, 2016 by Italian Navy.
Six years after the start of the uprising against Libya’s dictator Moammar Gadhafi, exactly what should replace him is still being fiercely contested.
The militias are complicating the efforts of a United Nations initiative led by special envoy Martin Kobler from securing any agreement between rival powers in the country.
U.N. Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Martin Kobler listens to an African migrant during a visit to a detention camp in Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 21, 2017.
Libya is split between a parliament in the east, two competing governments in Tripoli, one of which is recognized by the international community, and the powerful warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who has made no secret of his wish to become the North African country’s military ruler.
FILE – Smoke billows from a factory after an airstrike by forces loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar, in Benghazi, Libya, Oct. 22, 2014.
Warring Libyan factions last week agreed tentatively on an Egypt-brokered “road map” to heal divisions with the creation of a joint committee to negotiate reconciliation and elections by February 2018.
Doubts about ‘road map’
Both Fayez Seraj, prime minister of the U.N.-brokered government in Tripoli, and Haftar visited Cairo, but they did not negotiate face-to-face, meeting separately with Egyptian military officials. Analysts are doubtful about the prospects for the “road map,” arguing that it has much chance of success as the stalling U.N. initiative.
Last month, EU members states agreed to channel about $210 million in migration and border projects to try to curb migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. But it isn’t clear how much of those resources will be directed to Seraj’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli. Officials say no decisions as yet have been made on where the money will go.
In their report, the European border officials cautioned: “All in all there will need to be a legitimate political counterpart/Libyan government with a minimum of control over different institutions and their respective leadership. Without this, it will be unlikely that any institution, lacking basic control and identity of its staff, would be able to absorb and benefit from training and equipping in a sustainable manner.”
The border officials propose a phased approach “to regain control of the public space” by establishing areas of legality, “expanding from selected areas in Tripoli to greater Tripoli, combining all entities along the Criminal Justice Chain.”
The challenge to that approach was made clear Monday when a convey carrying Seraj and the chairman of his State Council, Abdulrahman Sewehly, reportedly was shot at near the Rixos hotel in downtown Tripoli. In a statement, Sewehly accused Khalifa Ghell, the head of a rival government, of trying to assassinate him.
Ghell has denied his men were involved in the shooting. A spokesman for the GNA, Ashraf Tulty, said the motorcade had been hit by gunfire as it passed through Tripoli’s Abu Salim district. It was unclear who was behind the shooting or whether it was a targeted attack, he said.
The Libya-Italy smuggling route across the Mediterranean last year saw record numbers in migrant drownings — 4,579 as compared to 2,869 deaths in 2015 and 3,161 in 2014. Last year, 181,459 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean, a 17-percent increase from 2015.
Jamie Dettmer – American journalist (British-born) currently reporting from the Middle East and Europe for Voice of America.