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The New Arab

Malta-based humanitarian group suspends migrant rescue operations

Since 2013, at least 13,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea. [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 September, 2017

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A Malta-based humanitarian group that has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean said on Monday it is suspending operations after rising tensions with Libyan and Italian authorities.

A Malta-based humanitarian group that has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean for three years said on Monday that it was suspending operations after rising tensions with Libyan and Italian authorities.

Libya and Italy - where the vast majority of refugees land - have worked together to stem the flow, with Italy also moving to rein in NGOs helping the multinational rescue operations by making them sign up to a new code of conduct.

Last month, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres) followed by Save the Children and Germany's Sea Eye all suspended rescue patrols for migrants in the Mediterranean sea.

The charities said their crews could no longer work safely to because of the hostile stance from Libyan authorities.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) told Reuters on Monday that it would instead send its rescue ship, Phoenix, to the Bay of Bengal to transport aid to Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar.

MOAS co-founder Regina Catrambone said the group does not want to risk transporting migrants back to Libya where they are often locked up for months or years in overcrowded facilities with little food or healthcare.

"We no longer have a definite knowledge that they will be taken to a safe port, and we don't want to rescue migrants and then be forced to return them to Libya, giving them a false hope," she told Reuters.

The latest suspension of operations leaves only Proactiva Open Arms, Sea Watch and SOS Mediterranee still running rescue operations in the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing.

The Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee with Medecins sans Frontieres medical staff, was the only rescue ship in the Mediterranean on Monday.

MOAS has rescued some 40,000 migrants in the Mediterranean since 2014.

Six years since a revolution that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has become a key departure point for people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Tens of thousands of refugees have resorted to paying people traffickers for the journey, often on overcrowded and unseaworthy boats, and charities have dispatched ships to rescue them from drowning.

So far this year, over 2,400 men, women and children have drowned while attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing on illegal trafficking boats.

Since 2013, at least 13,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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