Three NGO’s working to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean have suspended their operations due to the increasingly hostile response from the Libyan government and coastguard. Medicins Sans Frontier suspended their Mediterranean mission on Saturday with Save the Children and Germany’s Sea Eye following suit a day later after an incident in which a Spanish aid vessel was fired on by the Libyan coastguard.
In a post on Sea Eye’s Facebook page the group’s founder Michael Busch Heuer said that their decision was due to “the changing security situation in the Western Mediterranean.”
Tripoli has asserted its right to patrol beyond the 12-mile limit of its territorial waters saying it is necessary to carry out anti people smuggling operations. In the Facebook post, Sea Eye cited this “indefinite and unilateral” action along with “an explicit threat to private NGOs” made it impossible to continue their rescue missions.
Workers on an aid ship belonging to the Spanish group Proactiva Open Arms claimed last week that the Libyan coastguard fired warning shots over their vessel and threatened to shoot them if they entered Libyan waters.
Proactiva and SOS Mediteranee, a German charity, have said that they will continue sending migrant rescue ships into the Mediterranean.
The arrival of nearly 100,000 migrants to Italy so far this year is straining the country’s reception centres and creating an anti-immigrant backlash fuelling support for far-right parties before a general election next year. In an effort to stem the flow of people reaching its shores Italian authorities are working to train and equip the Libyan coastguard to turn back migrant boats and improve conditions in the Libyan migrant camps.
NGOs, however, argue that due to the ongoing civil war and instability Libya is not a safe destination with widespread reports of forced labour, beatings torture and rape in the camps.