Libyan Coastguard Shot at Migrants in the Mediterranean Sea

A migrant wearing a lifejacket during a rescue in the Mediterranean Sea A migrant wearing a lifejacket during a rescue in the Mediterranean Sea Kenny Karpov/SOS Mediterranee

31 May 2017
On 23 May, aid organisations accused Libyan coastguard officers of violently interrupting a rescue in the Mediterranean Sea.

At midday, four non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - the Italian Save the Children, the German Jugend Rettet and the French SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) - were trying to help migrants on two overloaded dinghies in the Mediterranean Sea. Aid workers had just distributed lifejackets to the passengers of the first rubber boat when a motor-powered boat equipped with machine guns and labeled “Libyan coastguard” approached the scene at high speed. Witnesses recall how large waves generated by the speedboat made the dinghies more unstable. According to MSF, while aid workers were helping the passengers of the second dinghy, a few armed Libyan coastguards stepped onto the first rubber boat and asked for money, phones and personal belongings. Shortly after, rescue workers heard a series of gunshots. Migrants on the boat felt threatened and many of them jumped into the water.

Aid organisations accuse the Libyan coastguard of hindering rescue operations, creating confusion, intimidating people and firing shots. The Libyan Navy has rejected the accusations. Despite the controversy, no one was injured and more than 1,500 people were rescued, including a two-week-old baby. This episode may be not an isolated case. In October 2016, the German non-governmental organisation Sea-Watch said that a Libyan coastguard-labelled speedboat attacked a boat loaded with migrants, causing mass panic and at least four deaths. On May 2017, the NGO called on the international criminal court to extend the on-going investigations on the Libyan coastguard's activities.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, since the beginning of 2017(as of April 25), 43,204 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea and others 1,088 died during the trip. In 2016, in the same period, there were 363,401 arrivals and 1,266 deaths.


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