Privately-run aid organisations rescuing migrants off Libya have slammed the idea of creating a “code of conduct” for them to follow, saying European ministers tackling the crisis are bungling their response.
Italy, France and Germany held a working dinner on Sunday to prepare the ground for a six-point plan to address the biggest migrant phenomenon since World War II, to be submitted to the bloc at a meeting on Thursday in Talinn.
Top of the list was a code to regulate operations in the sea off Libya where the Italian coast guard, European border patrol forces and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) save migrants attempting the perilous crossing.
Up to a dozen private aid boats have been patrolling off the coast of Libya since 2015.
They performed 26 percent of the rescues carried out in 2016, rising to 35 percent so far this year, according to the Italian coastguard.
They have been accused of acting as a magnet by sailing close to the Libyan coast.
In reply, they insist that not doing so would risk lives, as smugglers are putting migrants out to sea in increasingly unseaworthy vessels with little fuel or water.
The Maltese organisation MOAS told AFP Tuesday it was “very perplexed” by the code-of-conduct proposal as all rescues in the Mediterranean are already automatically coordinated by a command centre in Rome.
– ‘Code exists already’ –
Ruben Neugebauer, spokesman of the German NGO Sea-Watch, was equally as baffled, saying: “there is already a code of conduct in place — it is called international maritime law”.
SOS Mediterranee, which was recently awarded a UNESCO peace prize for its efforts to save lives, said it was “surprised that the first response by European leaders to a major humanitarian crisis is for a code of conduct for the NGOs”.