Italy applauds Libya's decision on migrant 'search and rescue' zone

13 August, 2017, 22:13 | Author: Valerie Burke
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On Saturday, the Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) worldwide humanitarian group also announced the suspension of the search and rescue activity of its biggest ship in the Mediterranean, the Prudence, because of "increasingly hostile environment for lifesaving rescue operations". From now on, he added, rescue boats must "obtain authorisation from the Libyan state even for rescue operations".

With elections due next year, Italian politicians of most stripes are advocating strategies to choke off the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Aid groups and some Italian politicians warn that migrants intercepted by the Libyan coast guard are taken back to inhuman conditions in detention camps on the Libyan mainland.

Libyan coastguard officials have previously said they have rights over operations dozens of miles beyond the territorial limit of 12 nautical miles, without clearly detailing the claims to such rights or how they could be enforced.

He said MSF would continue its collaboration with another aid group, SOS Mediterranee, which operates a rescue ship in the Mediterranean with MSF doctors on board.

Anti-migrant sentiment has been rising in Italy, where newcomers from Africa and the Middle East are being blamed for crimes.

The humanitarian group said it was withdrawing its rescue ship Prudence after advice from Italian maritime authorities drawing attention to the Libyan declaration.

Tens of thousands of migrants have resorted to paying people traffickers for the journey, often on overcrowded and unseaworthy boats, and charities have dispatched ships to rescue them from drowning.

A 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. According to United Nations data, over 95,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Italy by sea in 2017, while more than 2,350 refugees died in the sea.

The Italian government announced earlier this month that it would deploy two military ships to Libya in an effort to deter illegal migration and human smuggling into Europe.

MSF's decision to halt its rescue operations was part of this positive process, he told the newspaper La Stampa.

Then on August 2, Italian officials in Lampedusa seized a ship, the Iuventa, operated by Berlin-based NGO Jugend Rettet, and began investigation into whether it was colluding with Libyan people-smugglers.

In a Facebook post, Jugend Rettet called for a suitable independent organisation to mediate between NGOs and Italy on a code of conduct that did not leave migrant lives in danger.

Cooperation between Rome and Tripoli on migration was endorsed as "very constructive" by the UN's new Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame.

The interior ministry said 11,193 new arrivals had been registered in July, compared with 23,552 in July 2016.

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