Mon, Aug 14, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Migrant aid group suspends rescue ship off Libya


The rescue ship Vos Prudence run by Doctors Without Borders on July 14 arrives in the port of Salerno, Italy, carrying 935 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.

Photo: AFP

Doctors Without Borders on Saturday said it is temporarily suspending the activity of its rescue ship due to alleged threats from Libya’s coast guard, which has become more aggressive in patrolling the coasts where human traffickers launch boats crowded with migrants desperate to reach Europe.

The humanitarian group said the rescue coordination center operated by Italy’s coast guard had on Friday informed it that the Libyan threats pose a security risk.

The group added that Libyan authorities declared their own rescue area, extending into international waters, the same day.

Doctors Without Borders says its medical crew is to keep working from a ship operated by another aid group while its own vessel is not involved in migrant rescues.

The Italian government last month agreed to dispatch a naval mission to assist the Libyan coast guard with anti-smuggler patrols.

The government also has pressured rescue groups to sign on to rules that would forbid them from entering Libyan waters to save migrants without specific authorization and require them to agree that armed Italian judicial authorities may board their ships.

Italy is requiring groups operating rescue ships to subscribe to the rules or risk not being allowed to dock in Italian ports.

Doctors Without Borders has refused to endorse the rules, while some other humanitarian groups have given their approval.

Critics of the policies say they could put lives at risk by delaying rescues in Libyan waters.

They also say that if the Libyan coast guard blocks smugglers’ boats, migrants would be returned to inhumane conditions, including beatings and forced labor, in Libyan detention centers.

“If humanitarian ships are pushed out of the Mediterranean, there will be fewer ships ready to aid persons before they drown,” Doctors Without Borders Italy president Loris De Filippi said in a statement. “Whoever doesn’t drown will be intercepted and brought back to Libya, which we know to be a place of absent legality, arbitrary detention and extreme violence.”

Spanish humanitarian group Proactiva Open Arms said the Libyan coast guard ordered its rescue ship to move north and fired warning shots last week when the vessel was involved in search-and-rescue work outside of Libyan territory.

Humanitarian groups have had ships monitoring the Mediterranean Sea outside of Libya’s territorial waters to help rescue migrants from smugglers’ boats in distress.

The Italian coast guard coordinates the rescues, including those conducted by naval vessels from other European countries.

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