Some 3,000 African Migrants Arrive in Italy, Amid Growing Tensions Between Libya and NGOs

TOPSHOT - Migrants and refugees seated on a rubber boat grab life jackets thrown by members of the crew of the Topaz Responder rescue ship run by Maltese NGO Moas and Italian Red Cross, off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea, on November 3, 2016. / AFP / ANDREAS …

Between Saturday and Sunday, some 2,850 African migrants were shuttled to Italy in 23 different rescue operations carried out by the Italian Coast Guard and various NGOs.

Eleven different rescue operations were carried out Saturday, resulting in a total of some 1,200 migrants being brought to Italian shores, while on Sunday another 1.650 more were added to their number in the course of 12 different interventions.

The operations took place amid a brewing conflict between the Libyan Navy and various NGOs. On Sunday, the Navy announced it had driven a number of NGO vessels out of Libya’s territorial waters and Admiral Ayob Amr Ghasem denounced the behavior of certain humanitarian organizations, which he accused of lying in wait for the migrant boats to arrive, perhaps because they had been informed by human traffickers of their arrival.

On Sunday, a Libyan coastguard official said he had evidence that aid agencies were financing African migrants who cannot afford to pay traffickers.

Colonel Tarek Shanboor claimed he had proof in the form of bank details and phone records showing that the charities were paying criminal gangs to shuttle migrants to Italy.

The Colonel said that despite the immense number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, humanitarian agencies continued to encourage migrants to make the perilous voyage. He also said he had delivered evidence of collusion between charities and traffickers to EU border security officials in Brussels.

“The non-governmental organisations are adding to the crisis by actively encouraging increasing numbers of migrants,” Shanboor said. “Now we have the evidence they are in cahoots with the smugglers. We have evidence the smugglers call the NGOs directly and there are business deals between them.”

In recent months, similar suspicions regarding the NGOs have been raised by the Frontex European border agency as well as by the public prosecutor in Catania, Carmelo Zuccaro, who suggested economic agreements between the traffickers and certain humanitarian organizations.

Earlier this year, Frontex released a report suggesting that NGOs have become accomplices to people smugglers by providing a reliable shuttle service for migrants from Africa to Europe, lowering smugglers’ costs and improving their “business model.”

“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,” the report states.

The Frontex report found that the ready availability of effective SAR (search and rescue) operations have served to stimulate demand for smugglers services, by making migration to Europe more accessible, resulting in what Frontex describes as a dangerous “pull factor.”

The Libyan coastguard has indicated its determination to strengthen its cooperation with Italy concerning the control of the Mediterranean waters.

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