The European Union border agency Frontex has accused NGOs of leaving migrant boats for smugglers to recover while the head of one NGO has defended against accusations of cooperation between them and the smugglers.
The NGO Sea Watch is defending itself against claims made by Frontex that they, along with other NGOs, are aiding people smugglers when they rescue migrants from the Mediterranean Sea. Board member of Sea Watch Frank Dörner has called the accusations “absurd” in an interview with German newspaper Die Welt.
“Migrants come because they are in a bad situation. We help them to exercise their rights and not to die,” Dörner told the paper. Frontex has been critical of NGO rescue ships who operate close to the Libyan coast to pick up migrants.
Dörner defended the practice saying: “As a rule, we are not going into Libyan waters. However, in an emergency near the Libyan coast, which is documented by the Rescue Command Center, we are also obliged to enter the Libyan twelve-mile zone. This is maritime law.”
In their latest report on the Mediterranean migrant route, Frontex said NGOs leave the boats used by migrants adrift at sea, which in turn are collected by people smugglers who use them to send even more migrants toward Europe.
When asked why Sea Watch doesn’t return the migrants to the North African countries they came from, Dörner claimed that “such repatriations are very questionable in terms of human rights”, speculating that many of the migrants may have been victims of torture and the military doesn’t return the migrants because it would create “unsightly pictures”.
Dörner accused Frontex of “criminalis[ing] NGOs” by trying to limit the number of actors in the area. He also attacked the Sicilian government who are investigating the funding of the NGOs saying: “This is a matter of great concern to us because it puts us under a general condemnation, which is not justified.”
When asked what he thought of Europeans who want to see the external borders of the political bloc enforced, he replied: “I accept that some say it is their right to determine who lives in their country. But I find this attitude wrong. Where is the solidarity with the people who have it really bad?”
This year has seen more migrant crossings in the North African area than last year and the German government predicts there could be as many as 400,000 migrants entering Europe in 2017. Italy saw a record number 170,000 migrants arrive in 2016.
Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at firstname.lastname@example.org