Three Aid Groups Suspend Mediterranean Rescues After Libya Threat
Three NGOs have suspended rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, citing threats from Libyan authorities.
Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), Germany’s Sea Eye and Save the Children said they were halting rescues of refugee boats along the deadly Libya to Italy sea route, which has claimed more than 2,200 lives this year.
The Libyan navy said last week it would establish a “search and rescue zone” off the Libyan coast and warned foreign ships to stay out of it. Save the Children said it understood the zone would extend Libyan control from 12 nautical miles (22km) to 70 nautical miles (130km) from the shore.
MSF said it received a warning from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) about security risks to its boats following the Libyan announcement. Sea Eye said it would “irresponsible towards our crews” to continue operations under such circumstances.
“In general, we do not reject (NGO) presence,” Libyan coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters, “but we demand from them more cooperation with the state of Libya … they should show more respect to the Libyan sovereignty.”
Angelino Alfano, foreign minister of Italy – which recently ordered NGO boats to sign a code of conduct – welcomed the Libyan announcement, saying it sends a “signal that the balance is being restored in the Mediterranean.”
Yet MSF’s Annemarie Loof warned that pushing humanitarian vessels out of the Mediterranean means “there will be fewer ships in the area to rescue people from drowning.”
“Those who will not drown will be intercepted and brought back to Libya, which we know is a place of lawlessness, arbitrary detention and extreme violence,” she said.
Head of UNHCR Asks E.U. to Expand Resettlement
The head of the U.N. refugee agency has asked the E.U. to quadruple the number of refugee resettlement places when its current U.N. resettlement scheme expires at the end of the year.
In July 2015, the E.U. agreed to take in 22,000 mostly Syrian refugees before 2018.
UNHCR’s Filippo Grandi laid out plans for the E.U. to extend the scheme by taking in 40,000 refugees annually and accepting refugees from a wider range of countries. German chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed the plan, saying 40,000 people would “not overstretch a continent with more than 500 million people.”
Displacement Grows in Colombia
Despite the 2016 peace deal with the FARC rebel group, displacement has increased in Colombia this year, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has warned.
The group cited U.N. figures showing displacement was up 20 percent in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2016.
The Pacific area of Colombia, mainly populated by Indigenous groups, has been hardest hit by continuing violence and more than 94 per cent of those displaced were Indigenous people and Afro-Colombians.
“New armed groups and some long-established ones are violently occupying our regions left behind by FARC,” a member of the Wounan Indigenous community told NRC. “All of them hope to get control of the cocaine trade, illegal deforestation and other criminal activities.”
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