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BuzzFeed reports inadequate response by Libyans manning an emergency hotline for migrants

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

TRIPOLI – American news website BuzzFeed News reported on Wednesday that Libyan officials manning a migration emergency hotline have been inadequately responding to phone calls.

An investigation by BuzzFeed News has found that “five different phone numbers provided by Libyan officials as contact numbers for search and rescue missions are barely functioning, and when they do, the staffers manning the phones are unable to speak English, in violation of international law.”

A reporter from BuzzFeed News tried to reach these five numbers on three different days and at six different times in a total of 30 contact attempts. Of those, 29 failed because the call was not answered. BuzzFeed News also published the recordings of some of its phone call attempts to the Libyan emergency hotline.

“Among the numbers where no one could be reached were the two numbers listed in the international database for emergencies at sea — the UN International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Search and Rescue database. The IMO entry says that the Libyans should be available 24 hours a day.”

Sea Watch, an NGO that provides search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, has also provided BuzzFeed News with radio recordings of several attempts on different days to reach the Libyan Coast Guard.

Sea-Watch also provided a list of recorded attempts to reach the Libyan Coast Guard from the bridge of the Sea-Watch 3, one of their rescue ships. The list of 15 calls show ten failed contact attempts — in five other cases, the Libyan side simply hung up.

BuzzFeed News noted that under the terms of the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, which Libya has signed, all rescue coordination centers must be staffed around the clock and include staffers who speak English.

Ina Fisher, a spokesperson for Alarm Phone, another NGO focused on rescues, told BuzzFeed News that in only two cases did phone calls placed to numbers meant to belong to the Libyan Coast Guard actually get answered. One number turned out to belong not to the coast guard but a retired general, she said. In the other call, the voice on the other end of the line said they could not help but did ask if they’d managed to save the boat in question.

A spokeswoman for the International Maritime Organization told BuzzFeed News that they were not in a position to comment on the reporting gathered for its report, adding that the IMO has no mandate to investigate the accessibility and reliability of regional command centers. A member-state of the IMO could make such a request, however.

BuzzFeed News has also asked the European External Action Service, the responsible EU Commissioner, for comment on the Libyans’ inaccessibility. They have not provided a response at this time.

In February 2017, Italy made a deal, backed by the European Union, to spend tens of millions of euros funding the Libyan Coast Guard of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which intercepts boats heading for Italy and returns those on-board to Libya.

The United Nations and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, do not consider Libya to be a safe harbor for migrants as severe abuse and crimes were reported to have been committed inside detention centers in Libya.

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