Is Italy’s new Africa strategy a blueprint for Europe?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The Italian-made Mattei Plan signifies not just a policy initiative but a window of opportunity to redefine Europe’s role in Africa and globally, Maddalena Procopio writes.

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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her cabinet’s recent visits to Libya, following migration agreements between the European Union, Tunisia, and Egypt — largely championed by Meloni herself — have led to a perception that Italy’s new Africa strategy, known as the Mattei Plan, is focused solely on migration.

However, this view is misleading and overlooks the plan’s comprehensive scope and broader implications for both Italy and Europe. 

While addressing irregular migration by improving local socio-economic conditions is crucial, the Mattei Plan transcends mere migration concerns, potentially representing a pivotal shift in Europe’s approach towards Africa.

The plan embodies an attempt at a strategic recalibration of Italy’s relations with Africa, attuned to the evolving geopolitical landscape characterised by heightened competition for markets and energy resources. 

The Mattei Plan is what Europe needs for three key reasons.

Collaborative partnerships and benefits to local communities

Firstly, the plan hints at a reconceptualisation of ‘development cooperation’ linking development objectives with industry interests and should remain well focused on this without dispersing funds. 

Development funds would be used not only to address Africans’ social needs but also to enhance the investment climate, laying essential groundwork for sustained economic engagement. 

For instance, water system improvements should aim to benefit local communities while supporting agribusiness demands. Likewise, technical education programmes respond to local education needs while catering to industry-relevant skill development. 

This approach potentially translates into a collaborative public-private partnership that mitigates investment risks, moving away from traditional donor-centric methods and acknowledging shared interests between Italy and African nations. 

It challenges the paternalistic development aid narrative in Europe-Africa relations, which has faced criticism with the rise of more transactional international players like China and Russia.

Rome should pave the way

Secondly, the Mattei Plan hints at a crucial reality check on Europe’s actual capacity to effectively engage with Africa, emphasising pragmatic and competence-based approaches rooted in the established strengths of the Italian private sector and civil society. 

By prioritising sectors where Italy excels, such as agriculture and energy, the plan mitigates the risk of gaps between policy aspirations and on-the-ground implementation. 

This allows Italian players to compete more effectively amid growing international competition for Africa’s resources, avoiding the pitfalls of broader, less grounded strategies like the EU’s Global Gateway. 

A grand strategy largely decided upon in Brussels, which struggles to align with market realities. However, the Mattei Plan’s lack of a grand strategy makes it highly complementary to initiatives like the Global Gateway.

Thirdly, Italy’s approach could pave the way for a different European modus operandi in Africa, moving away from the dominance of a single great power like France towards a collaborative framework led by European middle powers such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Nordic and Eastern European countries. 

These middle powers can pool their expertise within initiatives like the Global Gateway, recognising the potential for collective action to achieve greater impact. 

Italy’s relatively less controversial image in Africa positions it to lead this new approach, potentially acting as a bridge between Europe and other international actors, such as the Gulf monarchies, which have shown interest in supporting the Mattei Plan.

A window of opportunity is wide open

The success of the Mattei Plan for Italy and Europe hinges on robust multi-level engagement strategies. Effective communication must be prioritised across Italy, Europe, and Africa. The forthcoming progress report from the Mattei Plan steering committee, due by 30 June, should demonstrate initial results.

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Domestically, centralising the plan’s management within the prime minister’s office was a strategic move to align domestic interests with foreign policy objectives. However, inclusive governance is crucial, as is harnessing expertise from diverse stakeholders. 

Europe is where the fortunes of the Mattei Plan reside more than anywhere else. Proactive dialogue with EU institutions and member states is essential to garner support and foster cooperation. 

The Italian government should actively promote the creation of a European coalition to identify synergies among Africa strategies and with the Global Gateway. 

Without a European collective approach, the Mattei Plan may take a few steps, but it will not win the marathon. With Africa, comprehensive and clear communication about the plan’s objectives is crucial at national, sub-regional, and continental levels.

Internationally, Italy should continue to pursue cooperation with global partners, leveraging its less imposing presence in Africa to reconcile Europe with players in the Global South. Using its G7 presidency, Italy can further cooperate on mutual interests in Africa, such as infrastructure development and green energy.

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Ultimately, the Mattei Plan signifies not just a policy initiative but a window of opportunity to redefine Europe’s role in Africa and globally.

Maddalena Procopio is a Senior Policy Fellow in the Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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A weak, Kremlin-influenced Libya is a threat to NATO and EU security

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU, Hafed Al-Ghwell writes.

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With the gaze of much of the world fixed on the wars unfolding in Gaza and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand his country’s reach in Africa.

He is now using Libya as a stepping stone to position Russian submarines in the central Mediterranean and place nuclear weapons on Europe’s southern flank.

Enrico Borghi, a centrist MP and member of the Italian parliament’s intelligence committee, recently warned that Russia’s interest in Tobruk in Libya is no mystery, which could be a preamble for sending its nuclear submarines there, much like the Soviet Union sent its missiles to Cuba in 1962.

It is clear that having submarines a few hundred kilometres from NATO states would not be good for security. 

In light of this, Washington’s move to reopen an embassy in Libya a decade after suspending its operations in the country is significant. 

Not only is a strong Russian presence in Libya, a security threat to NATO and Europe — Libya’s geographic location, linking Niger, Chad and Sudan to North Africa and Europe, makes it of vital strategic importance.

Russian footprints all over

The Russian footprint in Libya has grown substantially, alongside an evolving military presence evidenced by a recent delivery of military supplies to the port of Tobruk. 

This strategic eastern city saw the arrival of armoured vehicles, weapons, and equipment — the fifth such shipment within a brief span, indicative of a systematic build-up. 

The supplies, presumed to have been dispatched from Russia’s naval facility in Tartus, Syria were transported by vessels of its Northern Fleet, reflecting an unyielding commitment to Moscow’s Mediterranean gambit that has survived the impacts of the war in Ukraine.

The shipment and what it entails are not an isolated development but part of a broader Russian pattern to establish a perpetual military presence akin to its nearly decade-long posture in Syria. 

Such an expansion is a direct challenge to NATO’s southern flank. 

The introduction of advanced air defence systems by Russian operators in Libya that threaten Western “over-the-horizon” counter-threat operations across North Africa and the Sahel shifts the regional balance of control in the air, while also threatening freedom of navigation since the delivery of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities will negate NATO’s operational reach in its own backyard.

How prepared is the West for Lybia’s further decline?

The entrenchment in Libya also serves as a gateway for deeper inroads into Africa where Moscow is astutely exploiting a partnership void, offering African regimes military and economic collaboration devoid of the conditionalised engagements favoured by Western patrons. 

Furthermore, Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU. 

It adds a frustrating layer of complexity to NATO’s security calculus now weighing steady Russian gains in Ukraine, and the long-term impacts of the US pullout from Niger and potentially Chad.

Simply put, Moscow’s playbook in Libya is changing from the usual fusion of military engagement with political influence in Libya, partly facilitated by the alignment with regional strongman Khalifa Haftar. 

By supplanting Western influence, Russia’s opportunism and leveraging of geopolitical fault lines have helped enhance its stature even at the height of a needless war in Ukraine. 

The cascading impact of Moscow’s manoeuvring raises serious questions about the West’s preparedness for the declining prospects of a stable, secure and sovereign Libya.

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This is why Washington’s decision to reestablish a diplomatic presence in Libya is a strategic bid aimed at countering Russia’s growing presence, while simultaneously bolstering the United Nations Support Mission. 

The US is back in town, however

The move comes after a palpable hiatus pointing to recalibrated approaches in Washington’s Libya file to embody a strategic calculus that transcends traditional diplomacy, for a re-engagement that can effectively counteract Russia’s growing inroads into Africa.

It is the clearest reflection yet of the interplay between geopolitical rivalry and the urgency of stabilising a paralysed country on Europe’s southern periphery. 

By re-establishing a physical diplomatic footprint in Libya, the US is taking a rare proactive stance that carries profound implications for Russia’s ascent. The planned facility in Tripoli will facilitate closer monitoring and the ability to challenge Russian narratives and influence on the ground.

Re-introducing US diplomats to Libya is not merely a symbolic act. It will allow for persistent engagement with Libyan actors to maintain key relationships and develop a firm grasp on local dynamics that often elude remote diplomacy. 

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It also represents a tangible commitment to supporting UN-led mediation efforts and laying the groundwork for pivotal elections. A secure and stable Libya is deeply intertwined with broader interests that, when carefully managed, will help immunise the country from a rising tide of instability that could undermine its transition to a post-paralysis era.

The September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi cast a shadow over a US return to Libya, stifling any optimism for re-establishing a diplomatic presence.

The memory of the Benghazi attacks also galvanised an evolution in US diplomacy regarding Libya that is predicated on security and sustainability. 

This includes cultivating ongoing on-the-ground engagement with Libyan actors and establishing robust channels for dialogue to address issues before escalations. 

It is a welcome pivot towards pre-empting potential risks, intervening diplomatically to avert crises, and ensuring the Libyan polity is insulated from worsening regional vulnerabilities.

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There’s no time to waste

Libya’s protracted state of fragmentation poses challenges in Brussels’ push to confront migrant surges, as any turmoil between Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb acts as a catalyst for the mass movement of people towards Europe, with implications for security, political cohesion, and safety net systems within the EU. 

Furthermore, the power vacuum in Libya could become a breeding ground for extremism that would be difficult to counteract given the enduring presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters, alongside deeply entrenched local militias across a very complicated security landscape.

To achieve sustainable peace, the US and Europe will have to leverage diplomatic pressure and develop effective strategies to uproot the political economies of Libya’s hybrid actors that are key to their longevity. 

In addition, Western involvement is critical for supporting the UN-brokered political settlement among Libyan actors, by providing an environment conducive to transparent electoral processes and equitable resource distribution. 

Strategic engagement includes recognising Libyan sovereignty and facilitating national reconciliation through initiatives that reflect the “Libyan-owned and Libyan-led” principles, foundational to the UN’s approach and stressed by Libyans themselves.

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Moreover, efforts to establish inclusive national mechanisms for the transparent and equitable management of Libya’s wealth and resources must run parallel with political mediation. 

Failure to do so risks undermining reconciliation efforts and the building of a stable, secure future by addressing long-term economic and political marginalisation, particularly in Libya’s south. 

Therefore, focused efforts on economic integration, accountability, and the rehabilitation of Libya’s tattered social fabric, backed by Western support, will be crucial in restoring stability in Libya.

Hafed Al-Ghwell is the Executive Director of the North Africa Initiative (NAI) and Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute (FPI), Johns Hopkins University.

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The Italian court ruling against returning sea migrants to Libya | Explained

The story so far: Libya is not a safe harbour, and it is “unlawful” to force migrants rescued from the sea to return to a territory where their fundamental rights are at risk, Italy’s highest court held in a landmark ruling in February.

Rights agencies have drawn attention to human rights abuses in Libyan territory, particularly in coastal prisons run by coastguards and armed militias, which become grounds for vast human trafficking networks. Unprotected refugees and asylum seekers are reportedly facing violence, torture, and inhumane conditions. “Now there is also a judicial precedent that confirms what we have been saying for years: Libya is not a safe country,” rescue group Mediterranea Saving Humans wrote on X.

The court verdict against ‘pushing back’ migrants also diverges from the stance of Italy and several other European countries, where right-wing parties are capitalising on anti-immigration pledges. Groups like UpRights and StraLi welcomed the “landmark” ruling, urging “Italy to comply with international human rights standards and end its complicity with violations of migrants’ rights.”

File photo: Rescuers searching for survivors in the aftermath of a deadly migrant shipwreck in Steccato di Cutro near Crotone Italy on February 28, 2023.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

The court case

The case in question is a 2018 incident. On July 30, while supplying to oil platforms 105 kilometres off the coast of Libya, the ship Asso 28 picked up 101 migrants, including five pregnant women and five minors, from a dinghy and returned them to the Libyan coastguard at the Tripoli port. A lower Italian court prosecuted the ship’s captain in 2021, finding him guilty of violating international humanitarian and refugee laws. The principle of non-refoulement forbids the forced return of people to countries where their lives or rights are at risk. Per international law, Libya is currently not a port of safety.

The Italian Court of Cassation in the present verdict reiterated this stance. It upheld the captain’s conviction and sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment for the crime of “abandonment in a state of danger of minors or incapacitated people and arbitrary disembarkation and abandonment of people,” as the ruling, dated February 1, notes.

The court said that once picked up, the migrants were under the captain’s charge, and in ‘abandoning’ them, the captain violated directives of the International Maritime Organization and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Moreover, these actions translated into a “collective refoulement to a port deemed unsafe like Libya.” The migrants faced a “high risk” of being subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatment in the detention centres… in Libyan territory, with the impossibility of seeing their fundamental rights protected.”

In 2009, owing to similar push-back policies, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy for intercepting asylum seekers at sea and returning them to Libya, saying that the practice violated the principle of non-refoulement, in addition to multiple articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

What are the legal obligation in handling rescues at sea?

The expanse of the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy is among the most dangerous albeit oft-used passage for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa fleeing ethnic conflict, war and famine. The crossing has become infamous for the way smugglers overload unseaworthy vessels with hundreds of people, , providing limited fuel and water,, and assuring them they will be rescued within a few hours of being at sea, as multiple reports, including this one by Time magazine, have noted.

More than 2,500 people died or went missing while trying to make the trip between January and September 2023, an almost 48% increase from the previous year, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data. The number of refugee arrivals doubled from 70,000 in 2022 to at least 1,30,000 last year, according to the International Office for Migration. Overall, Human Rights Watch estimates at least 25,313 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.

Under Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, every shipmaster is required “to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost.” International maritime law also requires coastal states to conduct search and rescue services, and if needed, coordinate with other nations during these operations. Still, countries like Italy and Malta have previously refused to open their ports, delayed ships’ arrivals or ignored requests for disembarking altogether. More than 24,000 people were intercepted and forced to go back to Libya in 2022, according to HRW.

What’s happening in Libya?

A UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission last year said there are “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed against Libyans and migrants throughout Libya,” with crimes, including torture and sexual slavery, committed in detention centres under the control of authorities including Libyan coastguards. The IOM estimates at least 3,5000 refugees are detained in official centres across western and eastern Libya; even more may be detained in unofficial camps, of which it is impossible to ascertain the exact number.

War-torn Libya has been under militia rule since 2011 after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Humans rights groups notes that this has allowed the proliferation of human trafficking especially in detention centres, where commanders “could be running their own militias and profiteering from picking up migrants at sea, sending them to be detained, and then demanding more money from the detained migrants,” according to a report. An Al Jazeera report documented instances where people were “flogged”, beaten, raped, and tortured in these detention centres “just to get money” from desperate family members.

The “vicious cycle” makes them “attempt the sea crossing, be intercepted, kept in arbitrary detention, systematically subjected to torture, sexual and gender-based violence and exploitation until they pay the guards to be released to attempt the sea crossing again, and again, and again,” Michela Pugliese, Migration Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, noted in 2021. “EU is knowingly and directly involved in this climate of impunity and this cycle of extreme abuse,” she said.

The same Libyan authorities have received funding, vessels, aerial surveillance and training from Italy and the European Union. Italy and Libya signed a memorandum in 2017 — renewed for a second time in 2023 — under which the Italian Government gifted commercial vessels to Libya, trained crew in conducting these operations and invested $10.8 million in Libya’s maritime infrastructure. There was a “direct causal link between Italy’s cooperation activities with the Libyan coastguard and the exposure of people intercepted at sea to serious human rights violations,” said Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

Last year, the EU also sent more search and rescue vessels to Libya to “stop the illegal migration to Europe” from North Africa, according to the European Commissioner’s Office. These indirect aids allow the EU and Italy to focus on “enabling the Libyan authorities to do the dirty job” of returning people to Libya, Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International’s migration researcher, told The New Humanitarian in 2020. “By doing so, they would argue that they have not breached international European law because they have never assumed control… over the people who have then been subjected to human rights violations [in Libya].”

“The Italian coastguard and government have long known that returning migrants to Libya would be unlawful… Instead, they looked for ways around those restrictions…”Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International’s migration researcher, to Al Jazeera

In December last year, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told a media outlet that collaborations with Libyan and Tunisian authorities have “made it possible to stop many tens of thousands of other arrivals” of refugees. “Even more would have arrived if we had not adopted the measures launched in recent months, which have already yielded concrete results,” he said.

Notably, in 2022, Mr. Piantedosi received flak from rights groups when he called migrants who are denied permission to disembark from humanitarian ships “residual cargo.”

Why is the ruling important?

U.N. agencies have previously acknowledged that Libya cannot be considered a “place of safety” for disembarking people rescued at sea due to proven human rights abuses at detention centres. Italy’s Court of Cassation added weight to this warning with its ruling.

The verdict also holds legal relevance amid ongoing legal disputes between human rights organisations and the European government over ‘push-and pull-back’ operations. One such case was filed in 2017 in the European Court of Human Rights by the Global Legal Action Network, after reports emerged of survivors being sold, beaten, raped, and electrocuted. The NGO alleged that Italy is complicit in these crimes by supporting Libyan authorities.

Maritime experts and rights groups note Italy’s far-right government led by Giorgia Meloni may double down on anti-immigration policies and obstruct the work of search and rescue NGOs. This would further escalate the likelihood of death, disappearances and detention for migrants.

In response to the verdict, Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said, “Italy has never coordinated and handed over to Libya migrants rescued in operations coordinated or directly carried out by Italy.” He added that the court’s sentences “should never be interpreted in a political or ideological manner.”

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Abandoned at sea, part 1: Syrian crew stranded for two years at Libyan port

Our team has obtained rare footage from sailors abandoned by their employers years ago, leaving them far from their homes in ports or open water. During this three-month investigation, we looked at official documents and contracts provided by crewmembers as well as open-source data to trace the navigation history of these dilapidated vessels before their abandonment. The first part of this special edition, produced in partnership with independent Syrian investigators SIRAJ, reveals a complex set-up of shell companies used by a group of Syrian-Romanian ship owners to evade legal disputes and Western sanctions.

When the East Express, a 97-metre general cargo ship flying the flag of Togo, docked in the Libyan port of Misrata on January 18, 2022, its crew thought they would offload their cargo of sugar and move on. But the port authorities declared the sugar unfit for consumption and impounded the ship. The crew have been there ever since -– two years and counting.

This legal impediment prevented the delivery of the sugar to its Libyan purchaser, eventually leading the ship’s registered owner, Mina Shipping Ltd., to  abandon the vessel with its 12-member crew still on board: ten Syrians, one Egyptian and one Indian. 

‘We don’t have any food, or water, or wages’

The East Express is capable of carrying more than 5,000 tons of goods, fuel, and ballast. Ammar Sheikha, one of the Syrian sailors stranded on the East Express, explains:

For me, ‘abandonment’ means asking for food, drinks and daily necessities, and not being able to get them from the ship’s owners and manager.

He declared in a video that he sent us in September 2023 that the crew had been “completely abandoned” by the company. “We have no food, no water, and no salaries,” he told us. 

The crew contacted ITF Seafarers, a transport workers’ union that provides assistance to the crews of abandoned ships, but say they did not hear back for months.

Ian Ralby, an expert in international maritime law, explains what abandonment is:

Abandonment is when a vessel owner literally abandons the claims to a vessel. It can mean that the crew is left without anyone who actually has legal responsibility for ensuring that they get the fuel, the food, the water and all the services that they need.

With no fuel or electricity, life on board quickly became unbearable. Sheikha told us:

We began to suffer from a lack of supplies and money … We spend most of our time sleeping or on our mobile phones. This is our only distraction. We talk to our families and friends until the day is over.

The crew have not been paid in 12 months. They believe that staying on board is the only way they’ll get their money. At one point, Sheikha says, the company owed him $17,000. When it arrived in Misrata, the East Express flew the flag of Togo, West Africa. Publicly available maritime registries like Marine Traffic and EQUASIS indicate that it was owned by Romania-based Mina Shipping Ltd.

When we contacted Mina Shipping at the Romanian number that appeared on the sailors’ contracts, a woman who said she was a former employee told us: “Mina Shipping is an offshore company whose owner died years ago.” 

The ship’s captain told us that the owner of Mina Shipping is a man named Samir Fahel, from Tartus, Syria.

Posts shared by his family show that Mr. Fahel died in February 2023. 

A former life under a different name

Fahel regularly posted pictures of ships. One in particular caught our attention: the Nadalina.


In this photo posted by Mina Shipping owner Samir Fahel, the Nadalina is seen after a refit at a ship repair yard in the port of Navodari, Romania, in 2019. © Photo shared on Samir Fahel’s Facebook page in 2016.

We looked up the Nadalina using its IMO number (every ship has a unique identification number issued by the International Maritime Organization). It turns out that the Nadalina is the same ship as the East Express, abandoned in Misrata. 

Ship owners and operators regularly change not only their names, but also the countries in which they are registered as well as the companies that manage and own them. Industry analysts say the complex ownership structure makes it easier for ship owners and operators to walk away when a ship encounters legal or financial problems. “It’s sometimes better to abandon an asset than to retain it and have the liability for it,” says Ralby.

The East Express (IMO number 8215754) has had three different names in the last seven years.
The East Express (IMO number 8215754) has had three different names in the last seven years. © Ammar Sheikha (left), Marine Traffic / Babur Haluluport (center/right ).

Tracking the ‘Nadalina’: history of sanctions violations

Ships must broadcast regular signals intended to ensure the safety of navigational traffic, and sites such as MarineTraffic pick up these signals to plot their locations. FRANCE 24 used the data – nearly 3,000 daily locations over eight years – to track the Nadalina’s movements from 2016 to 2023.

The data shows that the ship made regular trips in the Mediterranean, including to Tunisia, Libya and the Russian-managed port of Tartus in Syria and through Turkey to the Black Sea, coming and going from the Romanian port of Constanta.

The Nadalina’s route in the Mediterranean between 2016 and 2023 shows that it made regular visits to the Russian-managed Syrian port of Tartus.
The Nadalina’s route in the Mediterranean between 2016 and 2023 shows that it made regular visits to the Russian-managed Syrian port of Tartus. © FRANCE 24 Observers

It also reveals that the Nadalina made trips to the so-called “closed ports” of the Crimean Peninsula.

The Nadalina’s route in the Black Sea between 2016 and 2019 shows that it made regular visits to the so-called
The Nadalina’s route in the Black Sea between 2016 and 2019 shows that it made regular visits to the so-called “closed” ports of the Crimean peninsula placed under international sanctions following Russia’s invasion of the Ukrainian territory in 2014. © FRANCE 24 Observers

Ukraine banned international cargo carriers from docking at Crimean ports after Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula in 2014. The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on ships visiting Crimea.

Ukrainian and international media outlets documented at least 10 visits by the Nadalina to sanctioned Crimean ports between 2015 and 2019. 

“We found a group of ships that regularly visited the closed ports in Crimea,” says Kateryna Yaresko, an online investigator with the Myrotvets Center’s Seakrime project who has extensively worked on the Nadalina question. “They were connected to a group of Romanian-Syrian businessmen based in Constanta, Romania. This group was the worst offender.”

With her team, she obtained photographs showing the Nadalina docked illegally in Crimean ports such as Sevastopol and Feodosia between 2015 and 2019, and being loaded with cargoes of scrap metal or grain.

The Nadalina docked at the port of Sevastopol in Crimea on December 27, 2018 and was loaded with a cargo of scrap metal.
The Nadalina docked at the port of Sevastopol in Crimea on December 27, 2018 and was loaded with a cargo of scrap metal. © Seakrime, Myrotvorets Center

The Ukrainian investigators reported that the Nadalina was part of a group of ships operated by a company called Bia Shipping Co.

A shipping registry in 2015 gave Bia Shipping’s contact info as addresses at “joharshipping.ro”.

While “joharshipping.ro” is no longer online, we recovered versions of the site via an internet archive. The archived site belonged to a company called Johar Shipping and listed at least five of the ships operated by Bia Shipping Company. 


© France 24 Observers

Both this site and another Johar Shipping Co. archived site called “johar.ro” listed a man called “Adnan Hassan” as managing director, and “Johar Hassan” as in charge of general operations. 


© FRANCE 24 Observers

We found Adnan Hassan’s social media accounts. One clip he shared on Facebook shows him relaxing on board an 18-metre yacht with Johar Hassan, his brother. Photos also showed him with Samir Fahel.

This photo posted on the Facebook account of Samir Fahel in 2017 shows him in the company of Adnan Hassan.
This photo posted on the Facebook account of Samir Fahel in 2017 shows him in the company of Adnan Hassan. © Photo shareb on Samir Fahel’s Facebook page on 2017

The families respond

We repeatedly tried to contact the companies associated with the Hassan brothers and Fahel, using all the email addresses and phone numbers that we were able to find. 

A member of Fahel’s family told us that after his death, the family was still responsible for the East Express. She said a family member was assigned to manage the ship and assured us he would give an interview for our investigation. She gave us an email address that she said was for the family company Mina Shipping, but neither she nor the family responded to subsequent requests.

Adnan Hassan confirmed to us in a series of telephone interviews that he and his brother Johar had owned Johar Shipping Co. He said their company had acted as an agent for the ship on at least one occasion during the 2015 to 2019 period when it was known as the Nadalina and visited the closed ports of Crimea. He said they did not follow politics and were unaware that the Crimean ports were sanctioned, and that the visits to Crimea by the Nadalina and other ships they handled stopped after Romanian authorities investigated Johar Shipping. 

The Romanian Foreign Ministry confirmed having investigated the Nadalina’s visits to Crimea. “A check was performed on the financial transactions of companies connected to this ship,” they wrote. “The competent authorities concluded that there was not enough evidence that said payments constituted breaches of the prohibition.” They said they had notified “the economic operators involved of the risks of infringing the restrictive measures on the illegal annexation of Crimea”, and that Romania “strongly condemns” Russia’s “war of aggression against Ukraine”. 

Regarding the ship’s current status as the East Express and the plight of its crew in Libya, Adnan Hassan said the ship was owned by Samir Fahel and Mina Shipping. He said he was a friend of Fahel’s, but had no business relationship with him or Mina Shipping. He said the family contacted him seven months after Fahel’s death. “I wanted to be of help to his family to help them get the ship released,” he told us. “But I learned that the ship’s debts were greater than its value … I told the crew: ‘I will pay your wages only if the ship leaves the port, and I can examine it. That’s when you’ll get paid. Something to help you out.’”

Four crew members repatriated; seven remain on board 

The crew told us they had received small payments from Fahel before his death but had never received their full salaries. 

After FRANCE 24 contacted the ITF Seafarers union to inquire about the fate of the East Express crew, Sheikha told us the union agreed to send some money to cover his flight back to Syria. He sent us a message from the airport: “I can’t believe I’m on the way back home to my family after two years of suffering – without any savings. It’s tragic!” 

As of publication, Sheikha and three of his companions have returned to Syria, while seven of their companions remain on board the ship.


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The EU must actively back Libya’s new National Dialogue

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Competing outside interests have fanned the flames of internal discord in Libya. European policymakers must show an active interest in this new initiative, rather than falling back repeatedly on the failed formulas of the past, Ashraf Boudouara writes.

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Libya is again at a crossroads. One path is marked “Dead End” — that’s the path we are on. 

It’s a path to nowhere because expecting those who will lose power in elections — and with it their financial interests — to agree to organise elections is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. 

Turkeys never do, but this is the process the UN is leading. 

The other, more rational path is to support the new Libyan-led National Dialogue recently launched by Prince Mohammed El Senussi, the legitimate heir to the Senussi Crown of Libya, to break the deadlock. 

Rising above narrow interests to reunite our divided country, this new National Dialogue is gathering pace and capturing hearts and minds across all factions of our country. 

It’s the only realistic path at this crucial intersection. It embodies a patriotic vision centred on inclusivity, legitimacy, democratic governance and Libyan national identity, and Libyans expect Europe’s active support in this re-found hope for our country.

A Libya in disarray impacts Europe’s future, too

The political failures since 2011 have been unequivocal, leaving Libya in disarray. We have suffered multiple civil wars. Elections have been promised, cancelled, or indefinitely delayed multiple times. 

Multiple governments — appointed by non-Libyans if we agree to call things as they are — have delivered dividends only for narrow interests, thus deepening divides rather than bridging them. 

Thousands have lost their lives due to a lack of governance, an inability to provide citizens with security, and sorely lacking economic development and infrastructure due to endemic corruption.

The implications for Europe are far-reaching. From a lack of security on its southern flank that has seen destabilising elements take root, increased illegal migration to the continent (2023 saw a whopping 2,200 migrants die on their way to reach Europe’s shores), to energy insecurity as a result of global instability which could have been easily offset with access to Libya’s vast reserves (our country is home to 48 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, representing North Africa’s largest supply), the situation could not be any more serious for European strategic interests. 

And although some countries have been more engaged than others, it is apparent that Europe simply has no coherent vision for the future of Libya. At times, different European countries, for example France and Italy, have even been on opposing sides.

A true, Libyan-led grassroots dialogue

But now, in the face of a seemingly intractable impasse, a new and realistic hope for a better future is rapidly taking hold across the country. 

Just weeks ago, on the occasion of Libyan Independence Day, Crown Prince El Senussi delivered his annual address. This has become a highlight in the country’s calendar for many. 

And while in previous years his words were primarily focused on providing strength and hope to his countrymen, this year he did so in a far more concrete way, announcing the launch of an ongoing new Libyan-led National Dialogue.

Unlike any of the previous initiatives seen, this dialogue is truly Libyan-led and grassroots under the leadership of Prince Mohammed. 

Announcing an impressive roster of Libyans who have travelled to meet with him in capitals around the world, the extent to which this project is truly inclusive is distinctive. 

From currently serving political officials to community leaders and elders from across the land, to military leaders, academics, the youth and many others, they have all come to see the Crown Prince with the same message in mind: the time has come to work together to create a truly united Libya.

What can we learn from Libya’s history?

As Prince Mohammed reminded those present, an important fact that has been under-appreciated is that Libya faced similar, though of course not identical, challenges immediately after World War II. 

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The ravages of the multi-decade Italian colonisation, World War II itself where Libya was a field of battle, set in the context of the same tribal, regional and ethnic affiliations and fissures you see today, combined to create a political landscape possibly even worse than Libya faces today. 

But immediately after, Libya found a way out to herald in what is commonly referred to now as its Golden Era.

It did so by relying on its own cultural and historic norms, falling back on its own national identity, to implement political processes and constructs that had intrinsic legitimacy, the necessary national significance to be unifying, as well as the necessary symbols and institutions that fostered loyalty and patriotism to make reconciliation and nation building possible. 

Starting in 1949, in under two years, the last National Dialogue reached a consensus to adopt the 1951 Independence Constitution.

It set up a democratic constitutional monarchy, with an elected parliament and representative governance. It established a bicameral legislature comprising a Senate and a House of Representatives, allowing elected officials to voice the concerns of the populace. 

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There was also of course an independent and much-respected judiciary. This framework aimed to ensure a balance of power between the monarchy and the legislative branch, providing avenues for citizen participation and fostering a democratic foundation.

Elections were held, and women were allowed to vote, offering citizens the opportunity to engage in the political process and express their preferences. In fact, women had the right to vote in Libya before they did in Switzerland and Portugal.

Europe can still have a positive impact on Libya

There are many models of democratic constitutional monarchy in the world today including Sweden, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Malaysia and Japan. 

Each evolved from and is consistent with the country’s own history, culture and national identity. It was the same in Libya.

Libya’s new National Dialogue should be seen as an opportunity for European leaders to finally have a positive impact on our country. 

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To date, by any measure, foreign interventions have contributed significantly to instability in our country. Competing outside interests, including amongst European countries, have fanned the flames of internal discord.

There is a need for a paradigm shift, especially amongst European countries, to support the new National Dialogue launched by the crown prince, a homegrown approach to stability and progress in Libya, that is taking hold and has the necessary ingredients for success. 

European policymakers must show an active interest in this new initiative, rather than falling back repeatedly on the failed formulas of the past. The time for action is now.

Ashraf Boudouara is a Libyan political analyst and the Chairman of the National Conference for the Return of the Constitutional Monarchy.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Making water the engine for climate action

Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity  for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.

Meike van Ginneken, Water Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.

Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.  

Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.

First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.

In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.  

Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.

Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.

To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.

One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action. 



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Russia woos Haftar, but can the Derna floods give Libyans another chance?

Moscow seized the disaster diplomacy initiative after the deadly Derna floods, with Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov arriving in eastern Libya with a promise of aid. Russia is helping Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar while seeking geostrategic payback. But the Derna tragedy has also drawn the US back into Libya, and that could be a game-changer.

On a moonless night shortly after two dams in the port city of Derna collapsed, killing thousands, a hulking Russian Ilyushin IL-76 military cargo aircraft landed at an airport near Benghazi in eastern Libya.

“Russian Defence Ministry sends logistical reinforcements, rescue & search equipment after Storm Daniel,” noted a post by a local Libyan news site days after the landing on X, formerly Twitter.

Accompanying photographs showed teams unloading aid packages from the aircraft while a military truck, draped with the flags of Russia and Libya, waits on the tarmac at Benghazi’s Benina airport.

The messaging was clear and gained momentum over the next few days: the Russian defence ministry was on the ground, providing a rapid response in eastern Libya, a region controlled by strongman Khalifa Haftar, head of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

On Sunday, September 17 – a week after “Libya’s 9/11” as the Derna disaster has been dubbed – Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov himself was in town, meeting Haftar at the strongman’s Benghazi office.

The Russian defence ministry’s No. 2 is fast becoming Moscow’s “Africa Man”, making several trips to the continent, particularly coup-hit former French colonies such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Yevkurov was last in Libya when Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash near Moscow on August 23. Over the past few years, Wagner provided indispensable services to Haftar, securing oil wells and deploying fighters during the eastern Libyan strongman’s 2019 assault on the capital, Tripoli, in western Libya. Following the Wagner chief’s demise, Yevkurov is seen as the main organiser of the post-Prigozhin era of Russian relationships with Africa.

Read moreRussian general, master spy duo organise in Africa after Prigozhin’s demise

Just a day after Prigozhin’s death, Haftar showed that he was ahead of the intrigues in Moscow when his Benghazi media office released a photograph of the Russian deputy defence minister gifting the Libyan strongman a pistol during his visit.

Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov offers Khalifa Haftar a pistol in Benghazi on August 24, 2023. © Khalifa Khaftar media office via AFP

With its 1,700-kilometer Mediterranean coastline across from southern Europe, and its desert land borders providing a gateway to the Sahel and central Africa, Libya is considered vital to Russia’s interests across the two continents. The oil-rich North African nation is divided between the UN-recognised government administering western Libya and Haftar-controlled territory in the east.

Russia has proved to be a new, loyal ally to Haftar. But the septuagenarian Libyan strongman is not known for his geopolitical fidelity. In the course of an intrigue-packed military career, Haftar has switched sides, worked with rival powers, and managed to save his skin while amassing a fortune. The Derna disaster has repositioned him at the centre of a North African “Great Game”, with the victims of the floods in danger of turning into pawns.

Seeking docking rights for Russian warships

Russia’s outreach in eastern Libya predates the Derna disaster and has been largely opaque and shadowy.

Just two days before Yevkurov’s humanitarian trip to Benghazi, the Wall Street Journal published a report warning that Russia was seeking access for its warships in eastern Libya.

“The Russians have requested access to the ports of either Benghazi or Tobruk,” the US daily reported, citing Libyan officials and advisers. Yevkurov’s meeting with Haftar in August focused on discussing “long-term docking rights in areas he controls in the war-torn country’s east,” the newspaper added.

Prigozhin’s death and the Russian defence ministry’s efforts to fold Wagner mercenaries – including around 1,200 fighters still stationed in Haftar’s facilities – into a direct chain of command have increased the geopolitical stakes, according to Emad Baadi, nonresident senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Atlantic Council.

“It’s about securing a warm water port on the Mediterranean, at Europe and NATO’s southern flank, which has been a covert objective of Russia for quite a long time, but on which it hadn’t made inroads, partly because its presence in Libya was never made fully official, let’s say. This is slightly changing now, given the increased high profile, and nature of the visits that we’ve seen with the deputy minister of defence,” said Baadi.

Since NATO intervened in the 2011 uprising to oust Muammar Gaddafi, Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently criticised the operation and used Libya as an example of the Western military alliance’s failure.

More than a decade later, Putin is determined to turn that failure to Russia’s advantage.

“I think they are in Libya to stay, both for resource extraction and strategic positioning, from where they can basically threaten southern Europe and destabilise the security of southern Europe,” said a Western diplomat who declined to be named. “Putin wants to undermine democracy in Europe and what better way to do that than to use Libya as a launching pad for cynically sending illegal migrants into southern Europe. I think this is a medium-to-long-term strategic plan.”

From Tartus to Tobruk, or Benghazi

Russia’s efforts to lobby Haftar for naval access are aimed at duplicating Moscow’s achievements in Syria following the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to experts.

Following its 2015 intervention on Assad’s behalf, Russia has substantially increased the use of its naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only Mediterranean port to which Moscow has access.

With a naval presence in either Benghazi or Tobruk, Russia could significantly increase its reach, by having “surface-to-air missiles deployed, anti-ship cruise missiles, electronic warfare equipment, but more importantly, be able to deploy the Russian Mediterranean fleet to set port,” said Baadi.

“This setup in having both, the eastern flank of Europe [from Tartus] and also the southern flank of Europe [from Libya] presents a strategic advantage, both vis-a-vis Europe and against NATO as well,” he added.

‘Discussing fire safety with an arsonist’

Given the geostrategic stakes, the US is keeping a close eye on Russia’s outreach to Haftar in the wake of the Derna flooding.

Just days after Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yevkurov left Benghazi, the Americans were on the tarmac.

On Thursday, September 21, General Michael Langley, commander of the US Africa Command, and Richard Norland, US special envoy to Libya, arrived in Benghazi in an aircraft bearing humanitarian aid.

After a stop in Tripoli, where they held talks with representatives of the country’s internationally recognised government, the two senior US officials met the strongman of eastern Libya.

“Gen. Langley met with LNA commander Haftar in Benghazi to discuss the importance of forming a democratically elected national government, reunifying the Libyan military, and safeguarding Libyan sovereignty by removing foreign mercenaries,” the US Embassy in Libya said in an X post.


The messaging drew snide quips from Libya analysts monitoring the LNA’s crackdown on journalists and activists following a protest by flood-hit Derna residents outside the city’s landmark Al Sahaba mosque.

“Meeting Haftar to discuss democratic elections is like discussing fire safety with an arsonist. Shut the door on your way out mate,” said Anas El Gomati, director of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, on X.

“I think the West is very naïve about how to engage with Haftar,” said Tarek Megerisi, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “My advice to the US would be to take a very strong line in pushing back against the securitisation of the Derna crisis,” he added, referring to what Amnesty International has called the LNA’s “well-honed machinery of repression to silence criticism, muzzle civil society and evade responsibility”.

‘America’s man’ or ‘Russia’s man’ in Libya?

US policy on Libya over the past few years has been characterised by muddle and absence, according to many analysts.

“Washington is playing catchup on Libya because policy is always overshadowed by other priorities,” said Frederic Wehrey, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Libya surfaces in US consciousness when there are threat concerns: ISIS [the Islamic State group], energy security and Russia’s spoiling influence in Libya.”

Since 2014 – when his military “Operation Dignity” on Benghazi split the country in two – Haftar has positioned himself as an indispensable Libyan player who has at various points engaged with the US, Russia, France, Italy, the EU, Egypt and the UAE, even as he dismays officials in global and regional capitals.

A Gaddafi-era army officer, Haftar began the post-2011 chapter as “America’s man” – the product of a 20-year stay in Virginia after the CIA failed to find another country to house his commando force engaged in covert operations against the longtime Libyan dictator. 

“In the back of Russia’s mind, Haftar is still “America’s man” in Libya, especially after the twenty years that Haftar spent in Virginia,” noted Khalil El Hasse in a Washington Institute briefing.

“On whether Haftar is America’s man or Russia’s man, I think he thrives on being in the grey zone – which is fully, neither. But I do think that the Americans have displayed a naiveite that perhaps the Russians have not because the Russians are as opportunistic, if not more opportunistic, than Haftar himself,” said Baadi.

The US and its European allies have played the opportunistic game with Haftar, but they are falling behind Russia in strategy and the Libyan people have been the biggest losers, according to experts.

“A variety of international powers have crafted their relationship with this personality under the guise of counterterrorism,” said Stephanie Williams, former UN special envoy to Libya and currently a nonresident senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution. “Nations tend to prioritise these kind of discrete files – whether it’s counterterrorism or oil or counter-migration – at the expense of frankly, the kind of institution-building that was needed in the wake of 2011.”

More than a decade after Gaddafi’s ouster, the international roadmap for the North African country is focused on a “Libyan-led” process towards parliamentary and presidential elections.

The process, led by the current UN envoy to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, a veteran Senegalese diplomat, has a whiff of dismaying familiarity for most Libyans, who have endured election cancellations, obstructions and irregularities by their political elites.

During the September 10 protests outside the Al Sahaba mosque in Derna, residents vented their rage against Aguila Saleh, the eastern-based parliament speaker and Haftar ally. At 79, Saleh is viewed as a symbol of Libya’s political malaise, unilaterally pushing “legislation” through the chamber that favour his cronies and Haftar allies.

Saleh’s nephew, Abdulmonem al-Ghaithi, was Derna’s appointed mayor when the dam disaster that was “decades in the making” struck. Ghaithi was sacked shortly after the tragedy.

Read moreLibya’s deadly dam collapse was decades in the making

The Derna disaster could provide a tipping point for change, and it’s one that should be seized by countries supporting democracy in Libya before the Russians – under a new “Africa man” – can play spoiler.

“Derna does in fact represent an opportunity for responsible international and regional actors to correct the trajectory of their policy on Libya, to first of all stand with the Libyan people,” said Williams. “There is a moral responsibility now because what happened in Libya is going to happen somewhere else, we’re going have a climate change-driven event that will be compounded by conflict, chaos and misgovernance.”



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Derna death toll expected to rise to over 20,000 in dam disaster

Engineers blame years of neglect for the failure of the two dams above Derna.

Libyan authorities limited access to the flooded city of Derna on Friday to make it easier for searchers to dig through the mud and hollowed-out buildings for the more than 10,000 people still missing and presumed dead following a disaster that has already claimed more than 11,000 lives.

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The staggering death toll could grow further due to the spread of waterborne diseases and shifting of explosive ordnance that was swept up when two dams collapsed early Monday and sent a wall of water gushing through the city, officials warned.

The disaster has brought some rare unity to oil-rich Libya, which after years of war and civil strife is divided between rival governments in the country’s east and west that are backed by various militia forces and international patrons. But the opposing governments have struggled to respond to the crisis, and recovery efforts have been hampered by confusion, difficulty getting aid to the hardest-hit areas, and the destruction of Derna’s infrastructure, including several bridges.

Aid groups called on authorities to facilitate their access to the city so they can distribute badly needed food, clean water and medical supplies to survivors. Four days into the crisis, the lack of central oversight was apparent, with people receiving supplies and resources in some parts of Derna but being left to fend for themselves in others.

Manoelle Carton, the medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Libya, described waiting in line for hours to get into the city and, once inside, finding volunteers from around the country who had flocked to Derna getting in the way of humanitarian workers at times.

“Everybody wants to help. But it is becoming chaotic,” she said. “There is an enormous need for coordination.”

Teams have buried bodies in mass graves outside the city and in nearby towns, Eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel, said.

But officials worried that thousands more have yet to be found.

Bodies “are littering the streets, washing back up on shore and buried under collapsed buildings and debris,” said Bilal Sablouh, regional forensics manager for Africa at the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“In just two hours, one of my colleagues counted over 200 bodies on the beach near Derna,” he said.

Divers are also searching the waters off the Mediterranean coastal city.

Carton said later Friday that most of the dead bodies had been cleared from the streets in the areas of the city the Doctors Without Borders team visited, but there were other grim signs, including that one of the three medical centres they went to was out of service “because almost all of the medical staff died.” Thousands of people displaced by the flooding are staying in shelters or with friends or relatives, she said.

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Adel Ayad, who survived the flood, recalled watching as the waters rose to the fourth floor of his building.

“The waves swept people away from the tops of buildings, and we could see people carried by floodwater,” he said. Among them were neighbours.

Salam al-Fergany, director general of the Ambulance and Emergency Service in eastern Libya, said late Thursday that residents would be evacuated from Derna and that only search-and-rescue teams would be allowed to enter. But there were no signs of such an evacuation on Friday.

Health officials warned that standing water opened the door to disease — but said there was no need to rush burials or put the dead in mass graves, as bodies usually do not pose a risk in such cases.

“You’ve got a lot of standing water. It doesn’t mean the dead bodies pose a risk, but it does mean that the water itself is contaminated by everything,” Dr. Margaret Harris, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, told reporters in Geneva. “So you really have to focus on ensuring that people have have access to safe water.”

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Land mines warning

Imene Trabelsi, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, warned that another danger lurked in the mud: landmines and other explosives left behind by the country’s protracted conflict.

There are leftover explosives in Libya dating back to World War II, but most are from the civil conflict that began in 2011. Between 2011 and 2021, some 3,457 people were killed or wounded by landmines or other leftover explosive ordnance in Libya, according to the international Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.

Even before the flooding, Trabelsi said the ability to detect and remove mines from areas was limited. After the floods, she said, explosive devices may have been swept to “new, undetected areas” where they could pose an immediate threat to search teams and a longer-term threat to civilians.

Carton echoed the concerns about an outbreak of water-related diseases in the city. Beyond that, she said, there is a “huge need in mental health support” among survivors, witnesses and medical workers.

According to the Libyan Red Crescent, there were 11,300 flooding deaths in Derna as of Thursday. Another 10,100 people were reported missing, though there was little hope many of them would be found alive, the aid group said. The storm also killed about 170 people elsewhere in the country.

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The United Nations launched an appeal to raise more than $71 million to help a quarter of a million survivors of the floods.

Libyan media reported that dozens of Sudanese migrants were killed in the disaster. The country has become a major transit point for Middle Eastern and African migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to seek a better life in Europe.

Flooding often happens in Libya during the rainy season, but rarely with this much destruction. Scientists said the storm bore some of the hallmarks of climate change, and extremely warm sea water could have given the storm more energy and allowed it to move more slowly.

Officials have said that Libya’s political chaos also contributed to the loss of life. Khalifa Othman, a Derna resident, said he blamed authorities for the extent of the disaster.

“My son, a doctor who graduated this year, my nephew and all his family, my grandchild, my daughter and her husband are all missing, and we are still searching for them,” Othman said. “All the people are upset and angry — there was no preparedness.”

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Thousands feared dead in flood-ravaged eastern Libya

Entire communities were swept out to sea in the North African country, with the city of Derna hit hardest.

A local health official in eastern Libya says the flood death toll in the city of Derna has risen to more than 5,100.

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Ossama Ali, a spokesman for the Ambulance and Emergency Centre in eastern Libya, said the toll for the entire region is at least 5,202.

Ali told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday that more than 7,000 people were injured in Derna and most of them received treatment at field hospitals that authorities and aid agencies set up there.

He says the number of deaths is likely to increase in the coastal city since search and rescue teams are still collecting bodies from the streets, buildings and the sea.

The startling death and devastation wreaked by Mediterranean storm Daniel pointed to the storm’s intensity, but also the vulnerability of a nation torn apart by chaos for more than a decade. The country is divided by rival governments, one in the east, the other in the west, and the result has been neglect of infrastructure in many areas.

Outside help was only just starting to reach Derna on Tuesday, more than 36 hours after the disaster struck. The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to the coastal city of some 89,000.

Footage showed dozens of bodies covered by blankets in the yard of one hospital. Another image showed a mass grave piled with bodies. More than 1,500 corpses were collected, and half of them had been buried as of Tuesday evening, the health minister for eastern Libya said.

10,000 still missing

But the toll is likely to be higher, said Tamer Ramadan, Libya envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He told a U.N. briefing in Geneva via videoconference from Tunisia that at least 10,000 people were still missing. He said later Tuesday that more than 40,000 people have been displaced.

The situation in Libya is “as devastating as the situation in Morocco,” Ramadan said, referring to the deadly earthquake that hit near the city of Marrakesh on Friday night.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres conveyed his solidarity with the Libyan people and said the United Nations “is working with local, national and international partners to get urgently needed humanitarian assistance to those in affected areas,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The destruction came to Derna and other parts of eastern Libya on Sunday night. As the storm pounded the coast, Derna residents said they heard loud explosions and realised that dams outside the city had collapsed. Flash floods were unleashed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.

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The wall of water “erased everything in its way,” said one resident, Ahmed Abdalla.

Videos posted online by residents showed large swaths of mud and wreckage where the raging waters had swept away neighbourhoods on both banks of the river. Multi-story apartment buildings that once were well back from the river had facades ripped away and concrete floors collapsed. Cars lifted by the flood were left dumped on top of each other.

Libya’s National Meteorological Center said Tuesday it issued early warnings for Storm Daniel, an “extreme weather event,” 72 hours before its occurrence, and notified all governmental authorities by e-mails and through media … “urging them to take preventive measures.” It said that Bayda recorded a record 414.1 millimetres (16.3 inches) of rain from Sunday to Monday.

On Tuesday, local emergency responders, including troops, government workers, volunteers and residents dug through rubble looking for the dead. They also used inflatable boats to retrieve bodies from the water.

Many bodies were believed trapped under rubble or had been washed out into the Mediterranean Sea, said eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel.

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“We were stunned by the amount of destruction … the tragedy is very significant, and beyond the capacity of Derna and the government,” Abduljaleel told The Associated Press on the phone from Derna.

Red Crescent teams from other parts of Libya also arrived in Derna on Tuesday morning but extra excavators and other equipment had yet to get there.

Flooding often happens in Libya during the rainy season, but rarely with this much destruction. A key question was how the rains were able to burst through two dams outside Derna – whether because of poor maintenance or sheer volume of rain.

440 milimetres of rain

Karsten Haustein, a climate scientist and meteorologist at Leipzig University, said in a statement that Daniel dumped 440 millimetres (15.7 inches) of rain on eastern Libya in a short time.

“The infrastructure could probably not cope, leading to the collapse of the dam,” he said, adding that human-induced rises in water surface temperatures likely added to the storm’s intensity.

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Local authorities have neglected Derna for years. “Even the maintenance aspect was simply absent. Everything kept being delayed,” said Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow specialising in Libya at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.

Factionalism also comes into play. Derna was for several years controlled by Islamic militant groups. Military commander Khalifa Hifter, the strongman of the east Libya government, captured the city in 2019 only after months of tough urban fighting.

The eastern government has been suspicious of the city ever since and has sought to sideline its residents from any decision-making, said Harchaoui. “This mistrust might prove calamitous during the upcoming post-disaster period,” he said.

Hifter’s eastern government based in the city of Benghazi is locked in a bitter rivalry with the western government in the capital of Tripoli. Each is backed by powerful militias and by foreign powers. Hifter is also backed by Egypt, Russia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, while the west Libya administration is backed by Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

Still, the initial reaction to the disaster brought some crossing of the divide.

The Tripoli-based government of western Libya sent a plane with 14 tons of medical supplies and health workers to Benghazi. It also said it had allocated the equivalent of $412 million for reconstruction in Derna and other eastern towns. Aeroplanes arrived Tuesday in Benghazi carrying humanitarian aid and rescue teams from Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Egypt’s military chief of staff met with Hifter to coordinate aid. Germany, France and Italy said they also were sending rescue personnel and aid.

It was not clear how quickly the aid could be moved to Derna, 250 kilometres (150 miles) east of Benghazi, given conditions on the ground. Ahmed Amdourd, a Derna municipal official, called for a sea corridor to deliver aid and equipment.

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Questions mount over latest migrant tragedy in Mediterranean

Anger is growing over the handling of a migrant boat disaster off Greece last week that has become one of the biggest tragedies in the Mediterranean in years. The calamity is dominating the country’s political agenda a week ahead of snap elections.

The Hellenic Coast Guard is facing increasing questions over its response to the fishing boat that sank off Greece’s southern peninsula on Wednesday, leading to the death of possibly hundreds of migrants. Nearly 80 people are known to have perished in the wreck and hundreds are still missing, according to the U.N.’s migration and refugee agencies.

Critics say that the Greek authorities should have acted faster to keep the vessel from capsizing. There are testimonies from survivors that the Coast Guard tied up to the vessel and attempted to pull it, causing the boat to sway, which the Greek authorities strongly deny.

The boat may have been carrying as many as 750 passengers, including women and children, according to reports. Many of them were trapped underneath the deck in the sinking, according to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. “The ship was heavily overcrowded,” Frontex said.  

About 100 people are known to have survived the sinking. Authorities continued to search for victims and survivors over the weekend.

The disaster may be “the worst tragedy ever” in the Mediterranean Sea, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said on Friday. She said there has been a massive increase in the number of migrant boats heading from Libya to Europe since the start of the year.

Frontex said in a statement on Friday that no agency plane or boat was present at the time of the capsizing on Wednesday. The agency said it alerted the Greek and Italian authorities about the vessel after a Frontex plane spotted it, but the Greek officials waved off an offer of additional help.

Greece has been at the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis since 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa traveled thousands of miles across the Continent hoping to claim asylum.

Migration and border security have been key issues in the Greek political debate. Following Wednesday’s wreck, they have jumped to the top of the agenda, a week before national elections on June 25.

Greece is currently led by a caretaker government. Under the conservative New Democracy administration, in power until last month, the country adopted a tough migration policy. In late May, the EU urged Greece to launch a probe into alleged illegal deportations.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is expected to return to the prime minister’s office after the vote next Sunday, blasted criticism of the Greek authorities, saying it should instead be directed to the human traffickers, who he called “human scums.”

“It is very unfair for some so-called ‘people in solidarity’ [with refugees and migrants] to insinuate that the [Coast Guard] did not do its job. … These people are out there … battling the waves to rescue human lives and protect our borders,” Mitsotakis, who maintains a significant lead in the polls, said during a campaign event in Sparta on Saturday.

The Greek authorities claimed the people on board, some thought to be the smugglers who had arranged the boat from Libya, refused assistance and insisted on reaching Italy. So the Greek Coast Guard did not intervene, though it monitored the vessel for more than 15 hours before it eventually capsized.

“What orders did the authorities have, and they didn’t intervene because one of these ‘scums’ didn’t give them permission?” the left-wing Syriza party said in a statement. “Why was no order given to the lifeboat … to immediately assist in a rescue operation? … Why were life jackets not distributed … and why Frontex assistance was not requested?”

Alarm Phone, a network of activists that helps migrants in danger, said the Greek authorities had been alerted repeatedly many hours before the boat capsized and that there was insufficient rescue capacity.

According to a report by WDR citing migrants’ testimonies, attempts were made to tow the endangered vessel, but in the process the boat began to sway and sank. Similar testimonies by survivors appeared in Greek media.

A report on Greek website news247.gr said the vessel remained in the same spot off the town of Pylos for at least 11 hours before sinking. According to the report, the location on the chart suggests the vessel was not on a “steady course and speed” toward Italy, as the Greek Coast Guard said.

After initially saying that there was no effort to tow the boat, the Hellenic Coast Guard said on Friday that a patrol vessel approached and used a “small buoy” to engage the vessel in a procedure that lasted a few minutes and then was untied by the migrants themselves.

Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou defended the agency. “You cannot carry out a violent diversion on such a vessel with so many people on board, without them wanting to, without any sort of cooperation,” he said.

Alexiou said there is no video of the operation available.

Nine people, most of them from Egypt, were arrested over the capsizing, charged with forming a criminal organization with the purpose of illegal migrant trafficking, causing a shipwreck and endangering life. They will appear before a magistrate on Monday, according to Greek judicial authorities.

“Unfortunately, we have seen this coming because since the start of the year, there was a new modus operandi with these fishing boats leaving from the eastern part of Libya,” the EU’s Johansson told a press conference on Friday. “And we’ve seen an increase of 600 percent of these departures this year,” she added.

Greek Supreme Court Prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos has urged absolute secrecy in the investigations being conducted in relation to the shipwreck.

Thousands of people took to the streets in different cities in Greece last week to protest the handling of the incident and the migration policies of Greece and the EU. More protests were planned for Sunday.



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