‘Are we re­ally the prob­lem,?’ groups sav­ing mi­grants ask

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pri­vately-run aid or­ga­ni­za­tions res­cu­ing mi­grants off Libya have slammed the idea of cre­at­ing a “code of con­duct” for them to fol­low, say­ing Euro­pean min­is­ters tack­ling the cri­sis are bungling their response. Italy, France and Ger­many held a work­ing din­ner on Sun­day to pre­pare the ground for a six-point plan to ad­dress the big­gest mi­grant phe­nom­e­non since World War II, to be submitted to the bloc at a meet­ing to­day in Talinn.

Top of the list was a code to reg­u­late op­er­a­tions in the sea off Libya where the Ital­ian coast guard, Euro­pean bor­der pa­trol forces and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOs) save mi­grants at­tempt­ing the per­ilous cross­ing. Up to a dozen pri­vate aid boats have been pa­trolling off the coast of Libya since 2015. They per­formed 26 per­cent of the res­cues car­ried out in 2016, ris­ing to 35 per­cent so far this year, ac­cord­ing to the Ital­ian coast­guard.

They have been ac­cused of act­ing as a mag­net by sail­ing close to the Libyan coast. In re­ply, they in­sist that not do­ing so would risk lives, as smug­glers are putting mi­grants out to sea in in­creas­ingly un­sea­wor­thy ves­sels with lit­tle fuel or wa­ter. The Mal­tese or­ga­ni­za­tion MOAS told AFP Tues­day it was “very per­plexed” by the code-of-con­duct pro­posal as all res­cues in the Mediter­ranean are al­ready au­to­mat­i­cally co­or­di­nated by a com­mand cen­tre in Rome.

‘Code ex­ists al­ready’

Ruben Neuge­bauer, spokesman of the Ger­man NGO Sea-Watch, was equally as baf­fled, say­ing: “there is al­ready a code of con­duct in place-it is called in­ter­na­tional mar­itime law”. SOS Mediter­ra­nee, which was re­cently awarded a UNESCO peace prize for its ef­forts to save lives, said it was “sur­prised that the first response by Euro­pean lead­ers to a ma­jor hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis is for a code of con­duct for the NGOs”. Ital­ian coast guard head Vin­cenzo Melone gave the aid groups his back­ing in May dur­ing an au­di­tion with a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee in Rome look­ing into whether the NGOs were en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple traf­fick­ing from Libya.

“We are fac­ing a tragedy of in­cred­i­ble di­men­sions... (but) the so­lu­tion is not at sea,” he said. Since 2014, the coast guard has co­or­di­nated the res­cue of over 590,000 mi­grants, while over 14,000 have died or are feared drowned. The coast guard holds meet­ings in Rome with NGOs to fa­cil­i­tate co­or­di­na­tion. The next one is sched­uled for July 13. “There’s no anar­chy among the aid groups, the anar­chy is in Libya, a coun­try with­out any state struc­tures wor­thy of the name, where large-scale hu­man traf­fick­ing is pro­lif­er­at­ing,” said vice pres­i­dent of SOS Mediter­ra­nee So­phie Beau. ‘We need more boats’ It is the “EU which re­ally needs a code of con­duct”, Os­car Camps, head of Spain’s Proac­tiva Open Arms, said on Twit­ter. He pointed to a cam­paign against the NGOs which shifted at­ten­tion from cri­sis-hit Libya or the rea­sons be­hind the mass mi­gra­tory move­ment-peo­ple flee­ing war or hungerby sling­ing mud at the res­cuers. “‘You’re a pull fac­tor, you are in ca­hoots with the traf­fick­ers, you are fi­nanced by the mafias, you are the taxis of the sea, we are go­ing to close the port’,” he said, quot­ing the crit­ics. “Are we re­ally the prob­lem?” he asked.

Ital­ian me­dia re­ports said the code of con­duct would for­bid NGOs from sail­ing near the Libyan wa­ters or com­mu­ni­cat­ing with smug­glers-in­clud­ing us­ing any form of lights that could at­tract traf­fick­ers. The NGOs said a reg­u­la­tion to stop sail­ing near Libya would be dif­fi­cult to en­force in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, and pointed out they use search­lights to look for men, women and chil­dren who risk drown­ing in the dark. The code may also in­clude an obli­ga­tion to have a po­lice of­fi­cer on board the aid boats. The NGOs have said that would go against their hu­man­i­tar­ian prin­ci­ples. “But if the po­lice want to come on their own boats, they are very wel­come. We need more boats” sav­ing lives, he said.— AFP

CALAIS: A po­lice­men chases a youth - sus­pected of be­ing a mi­grant in a lorry park on the out­skirts of Calais yes­ter­day, near the site of the former area known as ‘The Jun­gle’. Au­thor­i­ties are on alert af­ter the ar­rival of sev­eral hun­dred mi­grants in the French coastal city. — AFP

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