EU leaders seek more vessels for Libyan coastguard

BRUSSELS Dec 14 (Reuters) – European Union leaders will on
Thursday call for more vessels for the Libyan coastguard to help
it prevent migrants leaving its shores for Europe, sources said.

Migrant arrivals from Libya to EU member state Italy are
higher this year than last at more than 175,000 people. Curbing
immigration is the bloc’s top priority after about 1.4 million
refugees and migrants reached it in 2015-2016.

The EU’s naval operation in the Mediterranean, Sophia, which
is targeting arms traffickers and training the Libyan
coastguard, is obliged to pluck out of the sea people who leave
Libya in unreliable boats provided by people smugglers, meaning
most of those who reach Italy arrive on EU vessels.

One EU official said the bloc is increasingly worried that
Sophia “has become a taxi service”.

At their summit in Brussels on Thursday, EU leaders will
agree on “the need to enhance support for the Libyan
coastguard”, according to a draft joint statement.

An EU diplomat said the bloc needed to find a way to finance
the Libyan coastguard or provide it with vessels directly: “The
idea would be to make it more effective in preventing migrants
from leaving Libya rather than just having our search and rescue

Diplomats say that has so far proven difficult to agree
among member states and Brussels, and can carry risks because of
the breakdown of law and order in Libya, which has allowed the
smuggler gangs to operate freely.

Libya has been engulfed in chaos since the West, including
EU states, helped rebels oust its long-time ruler Muammar
Gaddafi in 2011.

While the country now has a U.N.-backed government in
Tripoli, it has been struggling to impose its authority on rival
factions, leaving Libya caught up in factional fighting between
various groups of former rebels who had battled Gaddafi.

The United Nations has said migrants in Libya – mostly
coming from sub-Saharan Africa on their way to Europe – are
suffering consistent and widespread abuse, including arbitrary
detention, forced labour, rape and torture.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Alastair Macdonald;
Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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