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Migrant rescues off Libya encourage traffickers, says Frontex

The head of the EU border agency also accused charities, which carry out 40 percent of rescues off Libya, of poor coordination
A child and his father look on after being rescued by an NGO off the coast of Libya (AFP)

The head of the EU border agency Frontex criticised charities that rescue migrants off Libya on Monday, arguing that they encourage the traffickers who profit from dangerous Mediterranean crossings.

Such rescue operations "should be reevaluated," Fabrice Leggeri told Germany's Die Welt daily, also accusing the groups of not effectively cooperating with security agencies against human traffickers.

Leggeri said 40 percent of recent rescue operations at sea off the North African country "were carried out by non-government organisations".

He acknowledged that under maritime law, everyone at sea has a duty to rescue vessels and people in distress.

"But 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," said the director of Warsaw-based Frontex.

"This leads traffickers to force even more migrants onto unseaworthy boats with insufficient water and fuel than in previous years."

Frontex operates on the EU's external borders, off Italy and the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, but not off the coast of Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

The Frontex boss also said that some NGOs cooperate poorly with EU security agencies, which "makes it more difficult ... to gain information on trafficking networks through interviews with migrants and to open police investigations".

Frontex had criticised NGOs in a report in December, charging that they were picking up migrants at sea "like taxis". 

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at the time labelled the charges "extremely serious and damaging" and said its humanitarian action was not "the cause but a response" to the crisis.

Frontex said in January that migrant arrivals by sea last year had plunged by almost two-thirds to 364,000 compared with 2015, mainly due to an EU border deal with Turkey that sharply reduced landings in Greece.

But the agency said Italy was the exception with a record 181,000 arrivals, mostly from Africa via the Mediterranean, a 20 percent rise from 2015. 

Leggeri predicted in the interview that, because of the Libya-Italy route, "one should expect that more will come in 2017 than in 2016".

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