Italy may ask for EU help after three NGOs suspend migrant rescues

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-14 23:41:50|Editor: yan
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By Stefania Fumo

ROME, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- Italy may call on the EU to help save migrants off vessels in distress in the Mediterranean after three humanitarian NGOs suspended operations there, Italian media reported Monday.

The Italian government may request search-and-rescue assistance from EU Operation Triton, a border control mission, and EU Operation Sophia, an anti-human trafficker mission, Italy's public broadcaster RAI reported.

This comes after aid groups Doctors without Borders (MSF), Save the Children, and Sea Eye announced at the weekend they were suspending rescue operations, following a security warning issued by Italy.

"Libyan authorities have threatened all NGO units operating in the Sea Rescue Region Libya," read a memo from the Rome-based Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) tweeted by the Huffington Post UK and titled "possible security risks".

The memo is addressed to the Vos Prudence and the Vos Hestia, two rescue ships manned by MSF and Save the Children, respectively.

MSF specified that it is suspending operations because it will not cooperate with Libya, a country it says cannot guarantee the human rights of rescued migrants and refugees.

Another NGO, Germany's Jugend Rettet, has had its vessel seized by Italy as part of an investigation into alleged contacts between aid workers and human traffickers.

However on Monday, the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) tweeted it was setting sail for the Search-and-Rescue (SAR) area in international waters off Libya.

The humanitarian NGOs launched their vessels beginning in 2015, in response to mass drownings in the Mediterranean.

Since then, they have been working under coordination by the Italian Coast Guard to rescue tens of thousands of people fleeing war and destitution in North Africa and the Middle East.

The migrants and refugees pay hefty sums to human traffickers, who pack them onto unseaworthy boats with the promise of taking them to Italy, the first European landfall on the so-called Central Mediterranean route. Also on Monday, the UN-affiliated International Organization on Migration (IOM) said the central Mediterranean is "the deadliest migration route in the world, with more than 14,500 deaths recorded in this area since 2014."

So far in 2017 there have been 2,224 migrant fatalities on the so-called Central Mediterranean route, meaning that 1 in 36 people perished, up from 1 in 88 reported missing or dead in 2016, the IOM tweeted.

The rise was due to "increasingly dangerous smuggling practices" such as using increasingly flimsy vessels, according to IOM staff in Libya and Italy.