Three aid groups have suspended their migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean amid increasing hostilities from the Libyan authorities and coastguard.
Save The Children and Germany’s Sea Eye have joined Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in withdrawing their crews from the region after a series of clashes between NGO boats and coastguard ships on the edge of Libyan waters.
Gabriele Eminente, MSF Italy director, said: “A very practical risk is that we could receive a call from a self-appointed rescue coordination centre in Libya to bring the people back.
“This from our point of view does not respect international law because it is evident that Libya is not a safe port. And we would be obliged to comply, even though its not a situation we’d like to find ourselves in.”
Libya asserts its right to operate beyond the limit of 12 nautical miles from its shores, defending the move as necessary in order to oversee rescue work.
However, the crew of a ship belonging to Spanish aid group Proactiva Open Arms said last week that the Libyan coastguard had fired warning shots and told workers they would be fired upon if they entered Libyan waters.
The real concern is for the fate of migrants who are sent back to the North African country.
Many of those who’ve spent time in detention camps in Libya have reported appalling treatment including forced labour, beatings, torture and rape.