SABRATHA (Libya), Departures of migrant-laden boats to Italy from Sabratha, formerly Libya's biggest people-smuggling hub, have slowed to a trickle thanks to a security crackdown triggered by European pressure that ejected the city's top smuggler.
But the local branch of Libya's coastguard feels neglected. It says it is still starved for resources, unable to run its own patrols with only one broken-down boat, one car and no uniforms.
Sabratha, 75 km west of the capital Tripoli where people smugglers exploited gang lawlessness for years, was the main launchpad on Libya's Mediterranean coast for Italy-bound migrants, with the flow peaking in 2016 and early 2017.
Crossings fell off abruptly in July 2017 after the city's top smuggler, Ahmed al-Dabbashi - also known as Al-Ammu (the Uncle) - struck a deal with Tripoli authorities under Italian pressure to desist from trafficking migrants.
Rival militia ejected Al-Ammu and his followers in fighting two months later, and have since consolidated their position, fending off an attempted comeback by Al Ammu earlier this month.
With European Union and Italian support, Libya's coastguard has increased interceptions of migrants in an area stretching 155 km off the coast, while charity rescue ships that once guided many of the migrants to Italy have retreated.
Migrant embarkations from Sabratha, a city of 120,000, have all but ceased. While thousands once set sail every week, 35 would-be migrants were detained in October in houses before they departed, officials said.
We don't have human traffickers any more. The militias are gone, said General Omar Almabrouk Abduljalil, head of a Sabratha operations room for military and security forces.
But the local Sabratha coastguard said it was not benefiting from EU support being channelled through Tripoli, where naval and interior ministry units have received nine patrol boats.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK