Ger­man NGO halts mi­grant res­cue op­er­a­tions af­ter aid group stands down

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

BER­LIN — The Ger­man aid group Sea Eye on Sun­day said it was sus­pend­ing its mi­grant res­cue op­er­a­tions in the Mediter­ranean, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns af­ter Libya barred for­eign ves­sels from a stretch of wa­ter off its coast.

The an­nounce­ment comes a day af­ter Doc­tors With­out Borders (MSF) said it was halt­ing the use of its largest boat in the area be­cause of an “in­creas­ingly hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment for life­sav­ing res­cue op­er­a­tions”.

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

Ten­sions have been on the rise since the Libyan navy on Thurs­day or­dered for­eign ves­sels to stay out of a coastal search and res­cue zone, a mea­sure it said was specif­i­cally aimed at non­govern­men­tal groups.

Libyan au­thor­i­ties have ac­cused char­i­ties of aid­ing hu­man smug­glers with their res­cues at sea, ham­per­ing ef­forts to crack down on the il­le­gal mi­gra­tion route.

“Un­der these cir­cum­stances, a con­tin­u­a­tion of our res­cue work is not cur­rently pos­si­ble. It would be ir­re­spon­si­ble to­ward our crews,” Sea Eye founder Michael Buschheuer said.

Italy, which has borne the brunt of Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis this year, has also moved to rein in NGOs help­ing the multi­na­tional search and res­cue op­er­a­tion by mak­ing them sign up to a new code of con­duct.

Sea Eye said it would con­tinue to mon­i­tor the “changed se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion” off the Libyan coast.

“We leave be­hind a deadly gap in the Mediter­ranean,” Buschheuer warned.

Six years since the oust­ing of long­time leader Muam­mar Gad­hafi, Libya has be­come a key de­par­ture point for mi­grants risk­ing their lives to cross the Mediter­ranean to Europe.

Tens of thou­sands of mi­grants have re­sorted to pay­ing peo­ple traf­fick­ers for the jour­ney, of­ten on over­crowded and un­sea­wor­thy boats.

Mi­grant aid ships have played a key role in as­sist­ing the res­cue op­er­a­tions, and Sea Eye says it has helped save some 12,000 lives since April 2016.

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Res­i­dents car­ry­ing a portable shrine are splashed with wa­ter as they take part in the an­nual Fuk­a­gawa Hachi­mangu Fes­ti­val in Tokyo on Sun­day.

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