NGO's migrant rescue ship impounded in Italy

NGO's migrant rescue ship impounded in Italy

NGO's migrant rescue ship impounded in Italy

For its part, the Tobruk-based Libyan House of Representatives, which is allied to General Khalifa Haftar, has voiced strong opposition to the planned deployment of Italian navy vessels in Libya's territorial waters. Libya and Italy have had a bitter history together during the colonial period.

Italy agreed initially to deploy two ships, in the operation to help the Libyan coastguard and target people smugglers.

Italian government officials said threats from a Libyan strongman to bomb the Italian navy were "unreliable" and "unfounded," local media reported Thursday.

The U.N. migration agency reported in August that the number of migrants and refugees travelling via the Mediterranean exceeded 114,000 since the beginning of 2017 until July 30, with nearly 85 percent arriving in Italy.

Italy's Parliament on Wednesday approved having Italian military vessels help Libya's coast guard stop smuggling boats from leaving Libya for Europe. They estimate that 2,221 people have drowned this year alone on the central Mediterranean route.

In a subsequent Facebook post, the group said it is very sorry that it can not operate in the search and rescue zone, where migrants have been attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa into Europe.

Their statement came after Sarraj on Thursday denied asking Rome "to send Italian Navy vessels to Libya's territorial waters... or fighter planes into Libyan airspace".

Jugend Rettet was one of several NGOs involved in migrant rescues in the southern Mediterranean to refuse to sign a code of conduct at the interior ministry this week.

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But that approach has been criticised by global rights groups who say people returned to troubled Libya face detention in squalid camps and abuse at the hands of traffickers. Its web site says its volunteers' "motivation derives from the will to rescue lives and to improve the humanitarian situation on the Mediterranean".

Migrants picked up in Libyan coastal waters - and not global waters - can be legally returned to Libya, but aid workers say conditions in migrant reception camps there are dire.

The 11 point-code requires armed police on board NGO vessels, bans making phonecalls or firing flares, forbids the ships from sailing into Libyan waters unless lives are at risk, and bans the transfer of migrants from one vessel to another. "The evidence is serious", he said, Reuters reports.

"We have evidence of encounters between traffickers, who escorted illegal immigrants to the Iuventa, and members of the boat's crew".

Thousands have died attempting the perilous journey usually in rickety and overcrowded boats.

Italy's migration crisis is further compounded by its neighbors, like Switzerland, Austria and France, tightening their border controls in a bid to prevent migrants crossing the Alps.

Parliamentary approval comes as tension grows in Italy over reception centres bursting at the seams, and as politicians gearing up for elections early next year cash in on the biggest migrant phenomenon in Europe since World War II.

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