“The situation in Libya does not permit the offer of these boats,” an anonymous defence ministry source told AFP. Defence Minister Florence Parly had announced in February that France would donate six semi-rigid inflatable Sillinger crafts to the Libyan navy, under which the coastguard operates, in a move she said was aimed at helping the government “in the fight against illegal immigration”. But rights groups immediately opposed the plan, accusing the Libyan coastguard of picking up migrants in the Mediterranean and bringing them back to sordid, overcrowded detention centres where they are routinely exposed to torture, forced labour and other abuses.
The NGOs argued that the French donation would violate a European embargo on Libya related to the supply of military equipment, as well as the Arms Trade Treaty prohibition of arms transfers to countries where they could be used to commit or facilitate crimes.
Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Research, said in April: “Delivering boats to the Libyan coastguard … as the armed conflict in Libya escalates, is callous and irresponsible.”
The rights groups, which include Amnesty and Doctors Without Borders, hailed later on Monday the cancellation of an offer they said would have made France “complicit in the crimes committed against migrants and refugees in Libya”.
Lola Schulmann, of Amnesty France, said she hoped Paris’s decision to retract its offer would mark “a turning point in relations between France and Libya in terms of migration policy”.
Libya, torn apart by conflict since the 2011 ousting of dictator Colonel Gaddafi, has become the main transit route for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa hoping to start a new life on Europe.
The country is host to 45,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 650,000 migrants, many of whom have found jobs there, according to Vincent Cochetel, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) special envoy for the central Mediterranean situation.
More than 5,000 refugees are being held in 19 official detention centres, some run by armed groups, as well as an unknown number in rundown centres run by traffickers.
Scores of people have been killed in sporadic clashes since 2014 between rival factions in the east and west.
The violence has allowed militants and migrant smugglers to flourish, dented Libya’s oil industry and divided the country’s key institutions.