Charites that recuse migrants off the coast of Libya are encouraging trafficking gangs to send more people across the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats, the chief of EU border agency Frontex has warned.
In an interview with German daily De Welt, Fabrice Leggeri said rescue operations around Libyan waters should be re-evaluated, and that NGOs operating in the region should work more closely with security agencies in a bid to crackdown on people smugglers.
Noting that while maritime law dictates every vessel at sea has a responsibility to rescue people in danger, Leggeri told De Welt that the quick intervention of NGOs when migrants’ ships get into difficulty has prompted traffickers to send more unseaworthy boats loaded with insufficient fuel and water from the Libyan coast than in previous years.
Leggeri said the fact that 40% of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean are carried out by NGOs limits opportunities for security agencies to learn more about people smuggling operations, and can prevent border officers from conducting timely interviews with those who are plucked to safety.
Noting that Frontex views the unstable political situation in Libya as a major concern in the fight against people smuggling gangs, Leggeri said the EU’s border agency is helping to train 60 new officers for the country’s coastguard, but warned this was just a beginning.
“We must avoid supporting the business of criminal networks and traffickers in Libya through European vessels picking up migrants ever closer to the Libyan coast,” Leggeri said.
“This leads traffickers to force even more migrants onto unseaworthy boats with insufficient water and fuel than in previous years.”
Separately, a new report from the UN has revealed that a large number of children are continuing to risk their lives attempting to make the perilous journey from Libya to the southern coast of Italy.
Three-quarters of the migrant children Unicef spoke with for the study said they had been exposed to violence, aggression or harassment at the hands of adults over the course of their journeys.
More than half of the women and children interviewed for the report said they had experienced sexual abuse during their migration, often multiple times and in multiple locations. The report found sexual abuse is widespread and systematic at checkpoints and crossings.
“Children should not be forced to put their lives in the hands of smugglers because there are simply no alternatives,” said Afshan Khan, Unicef Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Response Crises in Europe.
“We need to address globally the drivers of migration and work together toward a robust system of safe and legal passage for children on the move, whether refugees or migrants.”