Too risky to res­cue mi­grants

Doc­tors With­out Borders puts mis­sion on hold af­ter al­leged threats from Libya.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD -

ROME — Doc­tors With­out Borders said Sat­ur­day that it is tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend­ing the ac­tiv­ity of its res­cue ship be­cause of al­leged threats from Libya’s coast guard, which has be­come more ag­gres­sive in pa­trolling the coasts where hu­man traf­fick­ers launch boats crowded with mi­grants des­per­ate to reach Europe.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian group said the res­cue co­or­di­na­tion cen­ter op­er­ated by Italy’s coast guard had in­formed it Fri­day that the Libyan threats pose a se­cu­rity risk. The group added that Libyan au­thor­i­ties de­clared their own res­cue area, ex­tend­ing into in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, the same day.

Doc­tors With­out Borders says its med­i­cal crew will keep work­ing from a ship op­er­ated by an­other aid group while its ves­sel, Pru­dence, is not in­volved in mi­grant res­cues.

The Ital­ian gov­ern­ment agreed last month to dis­patch a naval mis­sion to as­sist the Libyan coast guard with anti-smug­gler pa­trols. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of res­cued asy­lum-seek­ers, many of them flee­ing poverty in Africa, have been brought to safety in Ital­ian ports in re­cent years.

The gov­ern­ment also has pres­sured res­cue groups to abide by rules that would for­bid them to en­ter Libyan wa­ters to save mi­grants with­out spe­cific au­tho­riza­tion and re­quire them to agree that armed Ital­ian ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties may board their ships.

Italy is re­quir­ing groups op­er­at­ing res­cue ships to sub­scribe to the rules or risk not be­ing al­lowed to dock in Ital­ian ports. Doc­tors With­out Borders has re­fused to en­dorse the rules, while some other hu­man­i­tar­ian groups have given their ap­proval.

Crit­ics of the new poli­cies say they could put lives at risk by de­lay­ing res­cues in Libyan wa­ters.

They also con­tend that if the Libyan coast guard blocks smug­glers’ boats, mi­grants will be re­turned to in­hu­mane con­di­tions, in­clud­ing beat­ings and forced la­bor, in Libyan de­ten­tion cen­ters.

“If hu­man­i­tar­ian ships are pushed out of the Mediter­ranean, there will be fewer ships ready to aid per­sons be­fore they drown,” Doc­tors With­out Borders Italy Pres­i­dent Loris De Filippi said in a state­ment. “And who­ever doesn’t drown will be in­ter­cepted and brought back to Libya, which we know to be a place of ab­sent le­gal­ity, ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion and ex­treme vi­o­lence.”

A Span­ish hu­man­i­tar­ian group, Proac­tiva Open Arms, said the Libyan coast guard or­dered its res­cue ship to move north and fired warn­ing shots last week when the ves­sel was in­volved in search-and-res­cue work out­side of Libyan ter­ri­tory.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian groups have had ships mon­i­tor­ing the Mediter­ranean Sea out­side of Libya’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters to help res­cue mi­grants from smug­glers’ boats in dis­tress. The Ital­ian coast guard co­or­di­nates the res­cues, in­clud­ing those con­ducted by naval ves­sels from other Euro­pean coun­tries.

Carlo Her­mann AFP/Getty Im­ages

A SHIP run by Doc­tors With­out Borders ar­rives in Salerno, Italy, with 935 peo­ple re­cov­ered from the sea.

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