Mediterranean rescue groups halt operations

Migrants waiting to be rescued by a ship run by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast this month. Credit Angelos Tzortzinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TMP – 01/09/2017

Three aid groups have suspended migrant rescues in the Mediterranean saying they felt threatened by the Libyan coastguard.

Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), Save the Children and Germany’s Sea Eye have  declared that their crews could no longer work safely because of the hostile stance of the Libyan coastguard.

Commenting on the situation, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said that Libya’s growing role has produced a welcome “readjustment” in the Mediterranean and said that NGOs’ decisions to halt rescue operations were part of this positive process.

Clashes between Libyan coastguard boats and NGO vessels on the edge of Libyan territorial waters have been repeatedly reported, but the Libyan coastguard says they were only  asserting control over rescue operations.

Coastguard spokesman General Ayoub Qassem said: “In general, we do not reject the (NGO) presence, but we demand from them more cooperation with the state of Libya. They should show more respect to Libyan sovereignty.”

Rescue ships run by NGOs have been saving the lives of migrants who would otherwise have drowned in the Mediterranean. However, the Libyan and Italian governments have accused the NGOs of encouraging human smugglers to send more and more people across the Mediterranean on unseaworthy and overcrowded boats.

The Italian government has recently proposed a strict Code of Conduct, setting out rules on how the rescue groups can operate, while prosecutors in Sicily in southern Italy have begun investigating some NGOs for collaborating with people smugglers.