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France Drops Plan to Give Boats to Libya

Libya Could Have Used Ships to Commit Abuses Against Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Migrants on a boat that they tried to take to Italy, after being detained at a Libyan Navy base in Tripoli on September 20, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

France’s decision last week to withdraw its offer of six boats to the Libyan Coast Guard is good news, as Libya could have used this “gift” to subject even more migrants and refugees to serious abuses in Libya.

In February, the French Defence Minister announced that France would transfer six “semi-rigid” speed boats to the Libyan Coast Guard, which would have been used to intercept people fleeing Libya. The announcement, which came even though the French government was well aware that people intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard face a clear risk of being systematically detained in Libya in atrocious conditions, caused a wave of outrage and criticism. Many nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), including Human Rights Watch, urged French authorities publicly and privately to reverse its decision.

We were pleased to learn in recent meetings that the French Ministry of Defence had finally cancelled the delivery. This decision was officially confirmed in a memorandum sent by the ministry to the Paris Administrative Court of Appeal on November 26, in the context of the legal action brought by Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières, and six other nongovernmental organizations to block the boat transfer.

That the French government heard their criticisms is a win for rights and humanitarian groups. Nevertheless, France should do much more to stop the nightmarish situation for migrants and refugees arbitrarily detained in Libya.

France and its European partners should condition bilateral and European cooperation on migration enforcement with the Libyan authorities on an end to arbitrary detention and abuses against migrants by Libyan authorities. France should intensify its efforts to evacuate the most vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers to safe places, including to European countries. Finally, instead of propping up the Libyan Coast Guard, France should push for the urgent resumption of EU search-and-rescue operations, disembarkation in safe EU ports, and ensure that no one is returned to hellish conditions in Libya.

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