German NGO halts refugee rescue operations off Libya

Anti-migrant ship Defend Europe rescued in Mediterranean after issuing distress call

They object to a requirement that Italian police officers be on their boats and that the boats must take migrants to a safe port themselves, rather than transferring them to other vessels to allow smaller boats to stay in the area for further rescues.

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

MSF said on Saturday that it would withdraw the Prudence search and rescue ship which has been instrumental in saving the lives of asylum seekers trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean.

"If humanitarian ships are pushed out of the Mediterranean, there will be fewer ships in the area to rescue people from drowning".

Italy began training and supporting the coast guard of the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli last week, in an effort to increase its ability to intercept migrant boats and send them back to Libya.

Italy, which has borne the brunt of Europe's migration crisis this year, has itself moved to rein in NGOs helping the multinational rescue operations by making them sign up to a new code of conduct.

"It would be fatal if a constitutional, clean distinction between people who need protection in our country and those for whom that is not the case did not carry any consequences", the minister said.

"These are people who are escaping war, persecution and poverty - and yet in Libya they encounter another hell", Roberto Barbieri, head of Oxfam Italy, said in a statement. Esther, a 28-year-old from Nigeria, told the charity she had suffered a miscarriage after regular beatings during her five months in detention. "I lost a lot of blood without receiving any help", she told Oxfam.

Aid groups and some Italian politicians warn that migrants intercepted by the Libyan coast guard are taken back to inhuman conditions.

Oxfam urged European nations to stop pursuing migration policies that prevent people leaving Libya by sea, which the charity said puts migrants at risk of abuse and exploitation."People must come first", said Barbieri of Oxfam.

After Italian marine rescue services identified Sea-Eye's cutter as the closest vessel, it went to offer assistance to the C Star.

Over 90,000 migrants have been brought to Italy this year on top of the half a million brought over the three previous years.

"MSF further requests that Libyan authorities clarify that all boats, operated by NGOs or anyone else, will be permitted to conduct these rescue activities unhindered and unharmed and that the Libyan nor Italian authorities will interfere with the legally guaranteed right to disembark people in a place of safety", it said in a statement.

The group claims the rescuing of refugees from the Mediterranean Sea, where more than 2,400 men, women and children have drowned so far this year, is part of an "invasion" endangering the continent.

"Ireland needs to know that returning people to Libya is simply not an option".

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