Published: Sun, August 13, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Migrant aid group suspends rescue ship off Libya, cites risk

Migrant aid group suspends rescue ship off Libya, cites risk

Sea-Eye, a refugee rescue group, announced on its Facebook page Friday that it had been contacted by European Union authorities saying that the C Star, a ship run by a band of far-right activists calling themselves Defend Europe, was in distress and was unable to move.

In a statement, Sea Eye said it was with "a heavy heart" that it had chose to follow suit following the Libyan government's "explicit threat against the private NGOs".

The suspension of rescue operations by Sea-Eye and MSF comes less than a week after a Spanish NGO, ProActiva, said two of its ships were chased away by Libyan coast guards.

MSF said Libyan authorities had announced the establishment of a search and rescue zone on Friday, and restricted access to humanitarian vessels into the worldwide waters off the Libyan coast.

Libyan coastguard boats have repeatedly clashed with NGO vessels on the edge of Libyan waters, sometimes opening fire.

Libya has restricted the access of humanitarian vessels carrying out rescues in global waters, as part of a bilateral attempt with Italy to control the flow of illegal migration across a Mediterrenean channel between the two countries.

12, 2017, it is temporarily suspending the activity of its rescue ship due to alleged threats from Libya's coast guard, which has increasingly become more aggressive in patrolling the waters off its coasts where human traffickers launch boats crowded with migrants desperate to reach Europe.

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De Filippi said the Rome government's Code of Conduct for NGOs and its support for the Libyan coastguard showed it was now mixing the humanitarian goal of saving lives with "a political and military intention" of reducing arrivals.

MSF is one of eight non-governmental organisations that operate rescue boats just outside the 20km limit, rescuing migrants who leave the Libyan coast in flimsy craft and transporting them to Italy.

Sea Watch's founder, Michael Busch Heuer, announced it would suspend its rescue missions and accused Libya of issuing an "explicit threat" against NGOs in the area.

Charity boats have played a growing role in rescues, picking up more than a third of all migrants brought ashore so far this year against less than one percent in 2014.

Italy has struggled with the wave of refugees and migrants arriving at its coast.

MSF operates one rescue ship in the Mediterranean, the Prudence, now docked in the Sicilian port of Catania.

Some groups, including MSF, have refused to sign the code. "If humanitarian ships are pushed out of the Mediterranean, there will be fewer ships in the area to rescue people from drowning", warned Annemarie Loof, MSF's operational manager. In July, 11,459 migrants crossed from Libya to Italy, less than half the 23,524 who made the journey in June.

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