France and Italy plan to offer guard boats to Libya to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean into the European Union.

France plans to provide the Libyan coastguard with six new boats in June this year in cooperation with the European Union.

The plan aims to control the Libyan sea border to combat “illegal” immigration.

Over 172,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach the European continent in 2017. 

Although the number is declining since the European Migration Crisis in 2015, where over a million migrants crossed the sea separating Europe from Africa, the Mediterranean remains a significant route for migrants heading to Europe. 

Close cooperation between France and Libya

The French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, spoke to the internationally recognised Prime Minister of the Government of National Alliance (GNA) Fayez al Sarraj at the Munich Security Conference last week.

"These are six Zodiac Sillinger boats that will be delivered to them in batches of two this spring," the French minister said.

The Libyan coastguard is under the control of the GNA, which has been led by al Sarraj since March 2016.

NGOs that assist migrants, like Doctors without Borders (MSF) among others, who want to cross the Mediterranean have for years been denouncing the policy of "outsourcing emigration control", which was decided by the European Union in cooperation with Tripoli to contain the influx of migrants to its member states’ territory.

A report published last January by Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that the support provided by the EU to the Libyan coastguard in terms of equipment contributes to the arbitrary and abusive detention of hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers intercepted at sea.

MFS criticised France’s plan by tweeting: “France provides six boats to the Libyan authorities: how many refugees soon imprisoned and mistreated in Libya thanks to France Mrs Florence Parly?”

Further, MFS accuses the French government of violating international law and refugee rights. “France provides logistical resources to the Libyan coastguard to turn away refugees in violation of international law and imprison them,” it added.

Italy previously announced it would provide the same Government of National Alliance of al Sarraj, despite it backs the opposite warlord Haftar, who claims to govern the east of Libya, with four patrol boats for the same purpose.

French-Italian tensions over Libya

For more than six weeks, tensions between the Italian and French governments have been growing over Libya.

The countries are at odds with one another as they back opposing groups in the conflict.

The controversy started in May last year when Paris brought together the Libyan opposition, al Sarraj and Haftar, who was formerly a general under the Gaddafi regime, together for negotiation talks. 

Rome was not invited to the conference which was widely perceived as a snub in Italy.

A former colonial power in Libya, Italy had taken the lead in resolving the Libyan civil war, backing the UN-recognised government and has viewed Haftar, who is backed by France, with scepticism.

Then in September of last year, there was an increase of violence in Libya, for which the Italian defence minister blamed France.

The Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Luigi Di Maio have in recent days been engaged in a war of words with Paris, holding France responsible for the migrant crisis in Europe.

"If people are leaving today it's because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries,” he said.

Source: TRT World