LIBYA BARS FOREIGN SHIPS FROM MIGRANT S.A.R ZONE
Navy says move targeted at NGOs that aid human traffickers
THE Libyan navy on Thursday ordered foreign vessels to stay out of a coastal “searchand-rescue (SAR) zone” for migrants headed for Europe, a measure it said targeted non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
“We want to send out a clear message to all those who infringe Libyan sovereignty and lack respect for the coast guard and navy,” Libyan navy spokesman General Ayoub Qassem told a news conference here.
General Abdelhakim Bouhaliya, commander of the Tripoli naval base, where the conference was held, said “no foreign ship has the right to enter” the area without authorisation from the Libyan authorities.
Libya had “officially declared a SAR zone”, said Bouhaliya, without specifying the scope of the exclusion zone.
Qassem said the measure was aimed against “NGOs which pretend to want to rescue illegal migrants and carry out humanitarian actions”.
He urged humanitarian organisations to “respect our will... and obtain authorisation from the Libyan state even for rescue operations”.
Italy had also said it wanted to keep a tighter rein on NGOs helping the multinational SAR operation by making them sign a new code of conduct.
Italian authorities last week impounded a boat operated by German aid organisation Jugend Rettet on suspicions its crew effectively collaborated with people traffickers in a way that facilitated illegal immigration.
Its crew was suspected of taking on board migrants delivered directly to them by people traffickers, and of allowing the smugglers to make off with their dinghies to be used again.
The Libyan coast guard has accused NGOs of aiding people traffickers in their lucrative business.
Six years since a revolution that toppled long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya had become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Italy, the main destination of the people traffickers, had sent naval vessels at the request of Libya’s United Nations-backed Government of National Accord to assist Tripoli, on a mission disputed by rival authorities in eastern Libya.
More than 111,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea so far this year, the vast majority of them arriving in Italy, according to the latest figures from the International Organisation for Migration. AFP
General Ayoub Qassem