Calls for inquiry after migrants captured by Libyan coast guard shot dead

EU, which has spent close to €100m on coast guard, says use of violence ‘unacceptable’

The EU and the UN are calling for an investigation into the shooting of three Sudanese people who were killed this week after they were intercepted at sea by the EU-funded Libyan coast guard.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, a UN agency which sends staff to Libyan disembarkation points, local authorities started shooting after some of the dozens of captured refugees and migrants tried to escape on Monday night, to try to avoid being locked up in a detention centre.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis compared Libyan migrant detention centres to concentration camps, saying "you cannot imagine the hell that people live there in those lagers of detention". (Lager is an abbreviation of the German word 'Konzentrationslager', or concentration camp.)

“The use of excessive violence or live ammunition against unarmed, vulnerable civilians is unacceptable,” an EU spokesman told The Irish Times through email. “We call for the establishment of a thorough and transparent investigation to clarify the circumstances and responsibilities. Measures need to be put in place to ensure that incidents like this never happen again and that responsibility is established.”



The EU has spent close to €100 million on the Libyan coast guard, with the aim of stopping people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Many of those making the journeys have escaped dictatorships or wars in countries such as Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, while others have fled crushing poverty.

The EU spokesman did not respond to a question about whether it would reconsider its support for the Libyan coast guard in the wake of these killings.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been caught by the Libyan coast guard and returned to Libya, where they are locked up in militia-run detention centres where tuberculosis and other diseases are rife, and food and medical care are often denied to them.

Many are trapped in a cycle where they get passed between smugglers, the coast guard and militias, with some dying from medical neglect, tuberculosis, or being shot trying to escape.

Survivors of Monday's shooting were taken to Khoms Souq al Khamis detention centre, which is on the coast southeast of Tripoli. The Irish Times has previously documented guards selling detainees directly back to smugglers from Souq al Khamis.


A refugee who has been held in Khoms Souq al Khamis told the Irish Times he believes hundreds of people have been brought there over the past month, after being captured at sea, and they are crammed into a room too small for even 50 people. He said some had escaped after being denied food.

“\[They\] are missing the simplest things: eating, sleeping and safety,” he said.

In a report released on Wednesday, the Danish Refugee Council and UN Refugee Agency said at least 1,750 people died in 2018 and 2019 trying to reach the North African coast, before even attempting to cross the sea.

At least 20,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe since 2014, though most activists and experts say the real number is probably much higher.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa