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The presence of NGOs off Libya: a boon effect for traffickers?

MSF's first search and rescue ship, the Dignity I, set sail on April 21, 2016 from the port of Valletta, Malta. This boat, with a boarding capacity of 400 people, is deployed off the coast of Libya and will actively search for ships in distress. (Credit: MSF)

(B2) In his latest activity report, the commander of the EUNAVFOR Med Sophia operation against trafficking in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya, Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, rather clearly calls into question the work of certain NGOs on site, believing that they come close to the territorial limit of 12 nautical miles and, in a certain way, facilitate the work of smugglers.

The proximity of NGOs is an incentive factor

« The increased presence of NGOs — up to 26 NGO vessels are registered on the high seas — that are ready to rescue migrants within and sometimes inside Libyan territorial waters is having an effect on the flow of migration. Being so close to the Libyan coast, the presence of NGOs allows traffickers to get their ships back to shore much more easily, with the aim of reusing them. ».

A change of modus operandi traffickers

This close presence of NGOs reduces “ the relief average of 75 miles 35 or even 20 miles from the Libyan shore ". This has consequences on the mode of operation: “ships no longer depart with Turaya telephones (NB: as at the beginning) and they no longer make distress calls to the MRCC ". The smugglers" seem very aware of where they can find rescue ships, especially NGOs, who broadcast their location via the Automatic Identification System (AIS)” denounces the Italian admiral.

Incidents with the 'coast guard'

Three incidents thus involved NGOs and ships “ bearing the logo of the Libyan Coast Guard », recalls the admiral: August 17 (read: The Bourbon Argos attacked off the coast of Libya), September 9 (read: The Werra to the rescue of nationals arrested by the Libyan coast guard) and October 21 (read: New clash with a Libyan coastguard ship? Several drowned denounce an NGO). In the first case, it is an MSF ship which is the witness, in the two other cases, it is the German NGO Sea-Watch (1). EUNAVFOR ships were called to the rescue on two of these occasions: in August and September.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

On this subject, read also: MSF responds to Frontex accusations

Read also: Mediterranean. Migrant flows reverse, smugglers adapt

(1) An NGO with which the EUNAVFOR Med operation appears to be on bad terms, or vice versa

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).