Charity Furious After Lybia Fires On Migrant Rescue Boat

The head of Frontex, the EU’s border and coast guard agency, insisted last week that the agency had a duty to notify Libyan authorities if a migrant boat is in danger in Libyan waters after a German charity claimed the Libyan coast guard fired on one its boats during a rescue, the Associated Press reported.

The charity SOS Humanity alleged last weekend that the Libyan coast guard fired on a migrant boat as its crew was rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on March 2.

According to SOS Humanity, its crew rescued 77 migrants from three unseaworthy vessels while several others were forced by the Libyan coast guard to board its vessel, separating some family members. At least one migrant drowned.

Frontex provides the Libyan coast guard with details on vessels in danger. The border agency monitors the European Union’s outside borders, including international waters, using drones, aircraft, and other monitoring equipment.

Hans Leijtens, the executive director of Frontex, told the Associated Press that the agency was obligated by international law to report boats in distress to “appropriate authorities.” He explained that if the vessel in danger is within Libya’s search and rescue zone, Frontex must notify Libyan authorities. He said not informing Libya would risk the lives of the migrants.

Since 2015, the EU has funded Libya’s coast guard as part of its efforts to stop the flow of North African migrants from reaching the Italian coast. In exchange for the funding, the Libyan coast guard is responsible for intercepting migrants in both Libyan and international borders and returning them to Libya.

Some EU member countries have accused charity groups of searching for migrants in danger to bring them to Europe. As a result, Italy has impounded some charity vessels.

However, Hans Leijtens told the Associated Press that Frontex must work with NGOs and insisted that the border agency did not hinder that cooperation.

Around 960 migrants were reported dead and another 1,563 were reported missing off the coast of Libya in 2023, according to the International Organization for Migration.