NGOs suspend migrant rescue operations in Mediterranean over security concerns

MSF has cited 'threats issued by the Libyan Coast Guard' for its temporary suspension of operations

NGOs suspend migrant rescue operations in Mediterranean over security concerns

File photo - Refugees land in Salerno, aboard the Offshore Supply Ship 'Vos Prudence' of the ONG Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Picture by: Michele Amoruso/Zuma Press/PA Images

Humanitarian agencies including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) say they have temporarily suspended rescue operations in the Mediterranean over security concerns.

According to MSF, it has been warned by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) that threats against search & rescue vessels operating in international water have been issued by the Libyan Coast Guard.

Many migrants & refugees attempt to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing from Libya, often in flimsy boats operated by people smugglers.

The Guardian reports that the Libyan Coast Guard has become 'increasingly more aggressive' in its patrols of the waters off its coast.

Yesterday, MSF confirmed it is suspending activity of its ship 'Prudence', although its medical support team will continue to assist on board a ship operated by the SOS Mediterranee organisation.

Annemarie Loof, MSF’s operational manager, said: "If these declarations are confirmed and the orders are implemented we see two grave consequences – there will be more deaths at sea and more people trapped in Libya.

"If humanitarian ships are pushed out of the Mediterranean, there will be fewer ships in the area to rescue people from drowning. Those who will not drown will be intercepted and brought back to Libya, which we know is a place of lawlessness, arbitrary detention and extreme violence."

"An explicit threat"

As well as calling for for Libyan authorities to clarify their position, the medical charity is also urging EU and Italian authorities "to stop implementing deadly containment strategies that trap people in a country at war".

MSF's Brice de le Vingne added: "Safe and legal pathways for refugees and migrants are urgently needed in order to reduce unnecessary death and suffering".

The German NGO Sea Eye has also announced its decision to suspend operations.

The organisation's founder Michael Buschheuer explained: "The reason for this is the changed security situation in the Western Mediterranean, after the Libyan Government announced an indefinite and unilateral extension of their territorial waters - in connection with an explicit threat against the private NGOs."

According to Reuters, charity boats have played an increasing significant role in responding to the crisis in the Mediterranean - picking up more than a third of all migrants brought to Italy so far this year, compared to only 1% in 2014.

In recent months, charities have found themselves in dispute with Italian officials over efforts to introduce a 'code of conduct' for operations in the Mediterranean.

MSF has refused to agree to the proposed code, saying the proposed presence of armed police officers on board NGO ships "would be in breach of fundamental humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality".