EU plans aid to help Libya stop migrant smugglers

BRUSSELS: The EU could soon step up training and equipping Libya’s coast guard to crack down on migrant smuggling in the north African nation’s waters, according to an EU proposal seen by AFP on Saturday.  Malta, which holds the current rotating EU presidency, is pitching the idea as a short-term measure to try to prevent a new spate of smuggling to Europe when spring arrives.  The European Union’s naval anti-migrant smuggling task force, known as Operation Sophia, does not have approval yet either from the UN or Tripoli to operate in Libyan waters.

Malta’s proposal about “empowering Libyan forces” questions whether it is “politically realistic” to expect that EU naval forces will be able to operate within Libyan waters in the months ahead. The EU should therefore consider creating a “line of protection much closer to the ports of origin” of smuggler boats, the proposal said. This would be in Libyan waters “with Libyan forces as frontline operators, but with strong and lasting EU support,” said the proposal prepared by Malta in agreement with European Council President Donald Tusk. An EU summit in December called for increasing support to the Libyan coast guard, which the EU began training and equipping last October.

The Maltese document said the increased support could be carried out by the current train and equip programme under Operation Sophia, but said “the issue of financing needs to be addressed as a matter of priority for future trainings.” The UN-backed Libyan unity government is seeking to end years of lawlessness following the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, but it is locked in a power struggle with a rival administration in eastern Libya. The EU proposal also raised the possibility of using its ties with Libya’s neighbours Tunisia and Egypt to crack down on migrant smuggling. — AFP