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.
MSF’s Director of Operations, Brice de le Vingne, accused European states and Libyan authorities of “jointly implementing a blockade on the ability of people to seek safety” and assaulting their dignity.
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, with a more than 50% drop compared to the same time last year. For Rome, this shows the first results of collaboration between Italian and Libyan authorities in a push to reduce the number of migrant arrivals. The number of migrants reaching Italian shore fell to 11,459.
In an ironic twist, a different group of people ended up stranded and in need of help in the Mediterranean waters – a vessel belonging to a far-right group “Generation Identity”. Their ship was intercepting refugees, blocking them from reaching European shores and rescue boats, but found itself stuck when they lost propulsion near Libyan waters, prompting NGO Sea-Eye, dedicated to saving refugees, to rescue them. The group lost its source of crowdfunding when their Patreon account was suspended, rendering their efforts futile.