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NGOs urged to rethink search and rescue plans amid EU migration deal

NGOs call for swift policy changes as the European council strikes a deal to cope with migrants in the Mediterranean

Charity groups have called on European governments to rethink the EU migration deal following several “avoidable tragedies” in the Mediterranean.

The Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned non-government organisations (NGOs) to rethink their rescue missions if they are to collaborate with Libyan coastguards, following reports Libyan officials committed grave human rights abuses.

MSF Head of Emergencies, Karline Kleijer, said in a statement: “EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya. They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuse that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya.”

MSF is just one of several charities that have helped save thousands of stranded migrants in the Mediterranean. However, over the span of a month, migrants have been denied access to safe ports and NGOs are forced to stay away from search and rescue zones.

At least 220 people died in one week alone in the Mediterranean after European governments blocked NGOs search and rescue operations. There were also reports that 100 migrants, including three babies, died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya.

The warning from MSF comes after the European council sealed an agreement that would see Europe “step up” its support of Libya. They called on vessels in the area to refrain from obstructing the Libyan coastguard’s operations in the Mediterranean.

The Libyan coastguard has an agreement with Italy to intercept NGOs vessels and to return migrants to Libya where they face arbitrary detention with no due legal process and are made to live in inhumane conditions, according to MSF.

“MSF urges European governments to show some basic decency and remember that we are talking about human lives and human suffering,” Kleijer said.

Kleijer added: “They can start by committing to search and rescue, and facilitate swift dismemberment in places of safety. This does not mean Libya.”

MSF said people trapped in Libya detention centres are without assistance and access is limited for international humanitarian organisations. However, MSF medical teams provided over 3,300 consultations and found that most health issues are linked to poor living conditions, overcrowding and lack of appropriate water and sanitation.

Despite the overwhelming need for an international search and rescue operation, MSF said an orchestrated campaign against NGOs is at breaking point and they will continue to be obstructed from carrying out rescues in international waters.

“Saving lives at sea is not a crime,” Kleijer said.

Humanitarian affairs advisor for MSF, Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, told The Guardian that NGOs have become scapegoats. Politicians have accused these groups of being “pull factors” for the migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean.

“It is easy to say we are the problem,” Hadj-Sahraoui said. “They say we need to abide by the law, which is something we have always done.”

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