Libya coastguard battles to save migrants with one boat
07 May 2015, 08:28
Zuwarah - In their struggle to cope with
the surge in illegal migrants bound for Europe, the coastguard in the Libyan
port of Zuwarah have just one boat, and even that often breaks down.
Situated 60km from the Tunisian border,
Zuwarah also is the Libyan port nearest to European soil - the tiny Italian
island of Lampedusa.
"We have only one boat left over from
the old regime, which often breaks down, to monitor the entire coastline of
Zuwarah," said Anwar al-Atushi, who heads the area's coastguard.
"Only 15 coastguards work, with their
own means, to rescue migrants at sea and bring them to port before handing them
over to the security services," the official added.
The coastguards' boat, which can only carry
10 people, is moored in the harbour next to fishing trawlers.
"When the number of migrants is high,
we ask permission from the owners of the fishing boats to use them."
As elsewhere along Libya's 1 770km
coastline, the flow of illegal migrants from Zuwarah has skyrocketed amid the
turmoil in Libya as two rival governments and a mishmash of militias vie for
These shores are less than 300km from Lampedusa,
which now shelters thousands of migrants who have fled conflicts in Africa and
the Middle East in an attempt to reach Europe.
The government in Tripoli, which is not
recognised by the international community, has launched a public relations
campaign to show it needs outside help to handle the influx of would-be
It has taken journalists on tours of
detention centres that it says house 7 000 people stopped as they prepared to
set sail across the Mediterranean.
The authorities in Tripoli are eager to
show they lack the resources to handle the upsurge that the United Nations says
saw 110 000 migrants passing through Libyan territory in 2014.
"We use boats and small Zodiacs
[inflatable dinghies] to boost our operations against clandestine
migration," said Rida Issa, head of the coastguard service for central
"But we need another 10 equipped
boats" to do the job properly, he added.
Zuwarah is also close to regions that see
daily clashes between forces of the recognised government and the Fajr Libya
militia alliance that controls Tripoli and most of western Libya.
"Our mission is essentially to protect
the city and all security threats," said Mohamed Salem, a member of
Zuwarah's security forces.
"We have nothing left over for the
fight against illegal migration.
"We lack detention centres and the
finances... Sometimes we pay from our own pockets to feed the migrants we
Salem pointed out that the country has
suddenly found itself in the middle of a crisis that Europe itself is unable to
In Zuwarah, "we only have one
car" for patrols and arrest operations, he said.
"Our methods are very primitive and
the government is doing nothing.
"We need 4x4 utility vehicles, boats,
planes and facilities to accommodate those we arrest," said Salem.
Among the equipment needed are
"weapons to deal with people smugglers, along with communications and
The European Union has announced a series
of measures, tripling its budget for patrols off Libya and even mooting the
idea of military action against smugglers.
But Salem said that "even if all the
boats from all the countries in the EU were deployed, they would still fail to
stop illegal migration to its shores".