Italy has endorsed Libya’s decision to chase NGOs out of coastal waters in what one charity called “an unacceptable assault on people’s lives and dignity”. Angelino Alfano, Italy’s foreign minister, told La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, on Sunday (13 August) that Libya’s actions meant that “balance is being restored in the Mediterranean”.
“We need a significant, I repeat a significant European economic investment in Libya and in Africa,” he added.
“Europe has to decide if the theme of migration flows is an absolute priority on the same scale as the economy. For us, it is,” he said.
Alfano’s statement came as most NGOs involved in migrant rescues in the region suspended their operations over the weekend due to threats from Libyan authorities.
It also comes after Italy struck a new accord with Libya to train and equip its coastguard.
Save the Children, a UK-based charity, and Sea Eye, a German NGO, said they would stop rescues on Sunday.
Proactiva, a Spanish charity, has also promised to keep up its work.
MSF said it had been “warned” by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome “about security risks associated with threats publicly issued by the Libyan Coast Guard against humanitarian … vessels operating in international waters”.
The charity’s Brice de le Vingne said: “European states and Libyan authorities are jointly implementing a blockade on the ability of people to seek safety. This is an unacceptable assault on people’s lives and dignity.”
He urged “EU and Italian authorities to stop implementing deadly containment strategies that trap people in a country at war with no regard for their protection”.
Save the Children said the Libyan navy had claimed control over a zone up to 70 nautical miles off its shores. (ER editor: a country’s territorial waters are set at around 12 nautical miles from the coastline, or close to 14 miles, according to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea)
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