Another NGO Suspends Migrant ‘Taxi Service’ After Libyans Block ‘Rescue’ Ships

A member of the Libyan coastguard mans a machinegun on a patrol boat off the coast of Misrata on May 9, 2015
AFP/File Mahmud Turkia

The German NGO Sea-Eye has suspended operations in the Mediterranean Sea citing “security” after Libya blocked its coast to European ‘search and rescue’ ships.

The pro-open borders charity wrote on Sunday it would suspend ferrying migrants from North Africa to Europe.

“The reason for this is the changed security situation in the western Mediterranean after the Libyan government had announced an indefinite and unilateral expansion of its territorial waters, combined with an explicit threat to private NGOs,” Sea-Eye explained.

Der Spiegel reports the NGO has transported approximately 12,000 illegal migrants since its launch in April 2016 aboard its two ships the Sea-Eye and the SeaFox.

The decision comes only one day after major French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders) suspended its so-called rescue missions.

The move by MSF came following warnings from the Libyan government that “NGOs which pretend to want to rescue illegal migrants and carry out humanitarian actions” would no longer be welcome in the search-and-rescue (SAR) zone in and around their waters.

Last week, the Libyan navy intercepted over 1,000 migrants in a three-day period, and fired warning shots near a vessel belonging to Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, accusing them of dealing with smugglers, and warning them to “not come back to our waters”.

“Never come back, otherwise I will shoot you,” the Libyans added.

Two weeks ago, Italian authorities confiscated the Iuventa, a SAR ship operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet, on suspicion of conducting “clandestine immigration” and contacting people smugglers. One week later, the Italian government released evidence corroborating the allegations.

Italian prosecutor Ambrogio Cartosio said: “The evidence is serious. We have evidence of encounters between smugglers who have accompanied illegal immigrants to the ‘Iuventa’, and members of the crew.”

The “Iuventa” collects migrants from individuals identified as people-smugglers by the Italian authorities. Photo: Polizia di Stato

Italy is tightening up access to her ports by migrant-trafficking NGOs after the government approved a code of conduct that SAR vessels must abide by before migrants and crew are allowed to disembark on Italian soil.

Several NGOs refused to sign the code of conduct, including MSF and Jugend Rettet.

In February 2017, the EU Border Agency (Frontex) described NGOs in the Mediterranean as acting “like taxis” for illegal migrants, having determined that their operations off Libya helped people-smugglers to “achieve their objectives at minimum cost [and] strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success”.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 111,000 migrants have entered the European Union via Mediterranean routes this year.

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