Doctors Without Borders (MSF) suspended its migrant rescues in the Mediterranean because it felt threatened by the Libyan coastguard and the Italian government’s policies have made its job harder, Reuters reported.
“Last year the [Libyan] coastguard fired 13 shots on our boat and that was in a situation that was much calmer than the present one…we cannot put our colleagues in danger,” the president of MSF’s Italian arm Loris De Filippi told Reuters.
Nearly 600,000 migrants from Libya and other African countries reached Italy over the past four years, sailing in inadequate boats operated by smugglers. More than 13,000 people died trying to reach the European coast, prompting a growing number of successful rescue operations conducted by several humanitarian organizations.
Italian authorities fear that successful relief efforts are encouraging migrants and facilitating smuggling, and they addressed these concerns by proposing a Code of Conduct for organizations operating in the coastal areas. The requirements include presence of Italian police officers on rescuing boats and NGOs taking migrants to a safe port instead of transferring them to other vessels to allow smaller boats to stay in the area for further rescues. MSF refused to sign the Code, accusing Italian government of “mixing the humanitarian goal of saving lives with a political and military intention of reducing arrivals.”
Libyan coastguard barred NGOs from operating near the mainland, requesting them to stay hundreds of kilometers away from the coast. De Filippi told Reuters they were threatened and prevented from working. He said MSF would continue collaborating with another humanitarian group, SOS Mediterranee, which operates a rescue ship with MSF doctors on board.
In the last six weeks the number of migrant arrivals in Italy has slowed sharply, showing first results of collaboration between Italian and Libyan authorities in a push to reduce the number of migrant arrivals.