LIBYA BARS FOR­EIGN SHIPS FROM MI­GRANT S.A.R ZONE

Navy says move tar­geted at NGOs that aid human traf­fick­ers

New Straits Times - - World -

TRIPOLI

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

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