France cancels controversial deal to supply Libyan coastguard

Rights groups had criticised France because of migrant abuse in Libya

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 11, 2017, African migrants arrive at a naval base in the Libyan capital Tripoli, after they were rescued from a rubber boat by coastguards off the Libyan coast of Sabratha.  France cancelled a decision to deliver six twelve-meter-long Sillinger rigid inflatable boats to Libyan authorities, initially intended to strengthen coastal patrols, due to the "situation" in the North African country, according to concordant sources. / AFP / MAHMUD TURKIA
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France has reversed a controversial decision to supply the Libyan coastguard with six rescue ships after pressure from numerous NGOs.

When the six-boat deal was announced in February, rights groups said France could be complicit in crimes committed against migrants.

Migrants stopped by the Libyan coastguard in the Mediterranean Sea are brought back to overcrowded detention centres to sometimes face abuse, militia conscription and torture.

Some Libyan coastguard officials, who typically run with almost no government oversight, have been sanctioned by the UN for their role in human trafficking.

Libya has become a transit country for hundreds of thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe.

A French government source told AFP that “the situation in Libya does not permit the offer of these boats”.

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles, an alliance of over 100 NGOs, described France’s move as a “victory for the people returned” to Libya by the coastguard on “a daily basis”.

“Any support to Libyan search and rescue efforts should be conditional on an end to the automatic and arbitrary detention of people in Libya after they have been rescued/intercepted at sea by the Libya Coast Guard,” tweeted Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency.

When the French-Libyan deal was announced earlier this year, Human Rights Watch accused France of showing a “cynical and callous attitude to migration.

“France should suspend delivery of its boats until Libyan authorities end the arbitrary detention and abuse of migrants,” Human Rights Watch said at the time.

“Instead of fuelling a relentless cycle of abuse, France should work with other EU Member States to maintain rescue operations at sea and allow disembarkation in a safe port as vulnerable people will continue to flee Libya’s horrors.”