EU wants mi­grant res­cue ships to skip Libyan seas

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - MEL FRYKBERG

IN­CREAS­ING num­bers of des­per­ate African refugees, specif­i­cally those from sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, are con­tin­u­ing to drown as ruth­less hu­man traf­fick­ers trans­port them in un­sea­wor­thy boats from Libya to Europe.

How­ever, de­spite their mis­er­able or­deal, the EU is con­sid­er­ing bar­ring NGO ships from en­ter­ing Libyan waters to res­cue them, ac­cord­ing to a leaked doc­u­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to a Wed­nes­day re­port, re­leased by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW), the new law would tech­ni­cally pre­vent NGO ships from en­ter­ing Libyan waters with­out the spe­cific per­mis­sion of the Libyan au­thor­i­ties.

“Thou­sands more refugees and mi­grants could be at risk of dy­ing at sea if a flawed code of con­duct for non-gov­ern­men­tal groups con­duct­ing search and res­cue in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean is put into prac­tice,” Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and HRW said after re­view­ing a leaked draft of the doc­u­ment.

The Libyan coast­guard has been ac­cused of fail­ing to res­cue mi­grants on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions in ad­di­tion to in­tim­i­dat­ing them by shoot­ing above the heads of mi­grants in res­cue boats to scare them off.

Other re­ports ac­cuse the coast­guard of col­lud­ing with hu­man traf­fick­ers.

The mea­sures the EU is con­sid­er­ing tak­ing in­clude ban­ning the NGO ships from us­ing lights to sig­nal their lo­ca­tion to ves­sels at im­mi­nent risk of sink­ing. The boats would also be forced to re­turn to their port of ori­gin and the refugees forced to dis­em­bark. At present the NGO res­cue ves­sels tend to trans­fer res­cued mi­grants to other ves­sels so the new mea­sures would re­move the res­cuers from mi­grant ar­eas for long pe­ri­ods.

An­other pro­posal would in­volve bar­ring the res­cue ves­sels from land­ing mi­grants in Ital­ian ports – an idea the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment has been moot­ing in re­cent weeks, the Libya Her­ald re­ported.

“Per­versely, the pro­posed code of con­duct for NGOs sav­ing lives in the Mediter­ranean could put lives at risk,” said Iverna McGowan, di­rec­tor of the Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Euro­pean In­sti­tu­tions Of­fice.

“NGOs are out there res­cu­ing peo­ple be­cause the EU is not,” added Ju­dith Sun­der­land, as­so­ciate Europe and Cen­tral Asia di­rec­tor at HRW.

“Given the scale of tragedies at sea and the hor­rific abuses mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers face in Libya, the EU should work with Italy to en­hance ro­bust search and res­cue,” she added.

Both groups said the new code of con­duct could breach rules that cap­tains of ves­sels must ad­here to at sea. Any code should fo­cus on mak­ing res­cue op­er­a­tions eas­ier and bet­ter, they said.

The Civil Lib­er­ties Com­mit­tee of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment is due to hold an “ex­change of views on Search and Res­cue in the Mediter­ranean” be­tween MEPs, the Ital­ian coast­guard, the EU bor­der man­age­ment agency FRONTEX, and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

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