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MSF halts operations of largest migrant rescue boat as dispute with Libya escalates Open in fullscreen

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MSF halts operations of largest migrant rescue boat as dispute with Libya escalates

Around 2,230 people died making the journey to Europe in 2017 [Getty-photo for illustrative purposes

Date of publication: 13 August, 2017

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Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Saturday it was halting operations of its largest rescue boat for migrants after Libya banned foreign vessels from waters off its coast.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is halting operations of its largest rescue boat for migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea, after Libya banned foreign vessels from an area of water off its coast.

Libya's navy this week ordered foreign vessels to stay out of a coastal "search and rescue zone" for migrants headed for Europe.  

The measure was aimed at NGOs "which pretend to want to rescue illegal migrants and carry out humanitarian actions", a Libyan navy spokesman said.

MSF said it would continue to provide assistance to other rescue operations but was suspending the use of the Prudence, one of the largest NGO vessels in the Mediterranean which rescued 1,500 people in May alone.

"With NGOs more and more restricted in the Med & the #EU determined to trap people in #Libya, we've put the #Prudence on standby," MSF said on Twitter. 

"European states and the Libyan authorities are jointly implementing a roadblock for people looking for security," MSF Italy President Loris De Filippi said.

"It's an unacceptable attack on the lives and dignity of people." 

Italy, which has borne of the brunt of the migrant crisis this year, warned NGOs earlier this month that they would be prevented from operating in the Mediterranean if they did not sign up to new rules.

A new code of conduct was created after a German vessel was impounded for allegedly aiding people smugglers, with boats now required to have an Italian police officer on board to monitor activities.

Most aid agencies conducting rescue operations have signed up to the agreement, but not MSF.

Italy's centre-left government is under intense pressure from domestic opponents and EU partners to close down the route that has seen more than 600,000 refugees and other migrants reach Italy from Libya since 2014.

So far in 2017, around 2,230 people have died while undertaking the perilous sea journey from Libya to Europe's shores.

Many of those on board the trafficking boats are fleeing poverty, conflict and political persecution.

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