01:08 GMT +324 November 2017
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    Migrants wait to be rescued by Save the Children NGO crew in the Mediterranean sea off Libya coast, June 18, 2017.

    Libya’s Ban on NGOs: 'Criminalization of Aid Groups Endangers Lives of People'

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    The Libyan government’s restriction on foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating off the coast of the country can be extremely dangerous and it can put thousands of lives at risk, Stefano Argenziano, manager of Migration Operations for Médecins Sans Frontières told Sputnik.

    “Save the Children” aid group has halted its naval rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea due to security risks posed by the Libyan government. The Sea Eye and Doctors Without Borders also announced that they had suspended their work in the area following alleged threats by the Libyan coastguard.

    “We are not sure about the security conditions after this declaration. Secondly, we are not sure about the ability to continue these rescue operations under the same international regulations that were coordinating operations before,” Argenziano told Sputnik.

    He further said that his vessel was shot 13 times last year in the international waters off the coast of Libya. Hence, security is a big issue.

    “Libya is obviously a region that has been affected by violent events, therefore we need an additional guarantee regarding the security of our staff in the first place and the ability to conduct operations in line with international regulations,” the manager said.

    Talking about the Libyan government’s rationale behind the hostile attitude towards the NGOs, Argenziano said that it could be part of a general plan to curb illegal migration by blaming NGOs.

    “We opposed this rationale because we believe that the problem is much more complex than this. We want to really encourage Italy, other European member states and Libya to find an alternative solution, which should be first of all a legal and safe channel of access for migrants into Europe,” Argenziano said.

    He further spoke about the accusations that were put forward by the Libyan Navy, suggesting that the accused NGOs assist in human smuggling.

    “If anyone has made a mistake from a legal point of view they should be held accountable and pay if necessary, but we are opposed to general criminalization of aid workers and search and rescue operations because this can be extremely dangerous and it can put thousands of lived at risk,” the manager said.

    Earlier this week Libya established a "zone of search and rescue" in its coastal area, into which all vessels excluding authorized ones are prohibited from entering.

    On Thursday, the Libyan Navy barred foreign ships from entering rescue zones and engaging in coastal patrol. The navy stated that this measure was specifically aimed at nongovernmental aid organizations. They accused NGOs of assisting human smugglers and interfering with the crackdown on illegal migration.

    Many migrants fleeing poverty and conflict use Libya to reach Europe, choosing the so-called central Mediterranean migration route. According to European border agency Frontex, the route saw almost 100,000 illegal border crossings between January and July this year. However, thousands died along the way due to poor safety on board smuggling boats.

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    Tags:
    civilian casualties, security, NGOs, restrictive measures, migration, interview, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Save the Chidren, Libya
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