Charities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) operating rescue missions in the Mediterranean are “colluding” with criminal people-smugglers to bring migrants to Europe, according to Italian authorities.
Prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro told La Stampa that phone calls were being made from Libya to NGO vessels offshore, helping smugglers complete the final leg of the journey in a billion-dollar European smuggling operation.
“We have evidence that there are direct contacts between certain NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and people traffickers in Libya,” Zuccaro said, claiming the ships were shining lights to help guide the smugglers’ dangerous boats and disabling responders to hide migrant activity at sea from the authorities.
After their rescue missions are completed, the NGO ships go a considerable distance out of their way to bring their passengers to Europe rather than safe ports in nearby North Africa. European Union Border Agency (Frontex) chief Fabrice Leggeri has accused them of acting “like taxis” for illegal migrants.
Frontex has previously conceded, however, that all search-and-rescue [SAR] efforts currently have the effect of encouraging people to go out to sea, including their own, because they are invariably brought to a safe harbour in the EU and not returned to North Africa.
In its Risk Analysis for 2017, the agency admitted that:
Both border surveillance and [Search and Rescue (SAR)] missions close to, or within, the 12-mile territorial waters of Libya have unintended consequences.
Namely, they influence smugglers’ planning and act as a pull … Dangerous crossings on unseaworthy and overloaded vessels were organised with the main purpose of being detected by EUNAVFOR Med/Frontex and NGO vessels.
Apparently, all parties involved in SAR operations in the Central Mediterranean unintentionally help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost, strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success.
Migrants and refugees – encouraged by the stories of those who had successfully made it in the past – attempt the dangerous crossing since they are aware of and rely on humanitarian assistance to reach the EU.
Despite acknowledging that its current policies lead to more sea crossings and more drowning deaths, Frontex has declined to change them “because they stem from European values”.
This contrasts with the more practically-minded approach adopted by Australia when seaborne migration reached a comparatively modest high of 403 boats and 25,173 migrants in 2012-13.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded to the crisis by launching Operation Sovereign Borders. The military-led mission which sees smuggler boats either turned back to their port of origin or escorted to a third country, where asylum applications are processed in secure facilities.
Operation Sovereign Borders has slashed illegal sea crossings to zero, and Abbott has urged EU leaders to follow his example.
In Australia Tony Abbott stopped the boats and stopped the drownings. The left prefer them to drown for propaganda. pic.twitter.com/MEWH2sxKTt
— Arch Stanton (@Arch_StantonGBU) February 11, 2017
“If you want to stop the deaths [and] you want to stop the drownings, you have got to stop the boats,” he declared in 2016.
“Effective border protection is not for the squeamish, but it is absolutely necessary to save lives and to preserve nations. The truly compassionate thing to do is: stop the boats and stop the deaths.”