Handout photo made available by German civil sea rescue organisation Sea-Eye, showing the Alan Kurdi vessel off the Libyan coast | Photo: EPA/FAB
Handout photo made available by German civil sea rescue organisation Sea-Eye, showing the Alan Kurdi vessel off the Libyan coast | Photo: EPA/FAB

Libya's interim national unity government has issued a decree forcing NGOs running migrant rescue vessels to obtain the permission of Libyan authorities to carry out search and rescue missions in Libyan waters. Italian non-profit Arci said the measure "criminalizes NGOs."

A decree issued by the presidential council of Libya's national unity government, the Government of National Accord, stipulates that NGO-run migrant rescue ships need the authorization of Tripoli's authorities to carry out search and rescue (SAR) missions in Libyan territorial waters. The decree was translated into Italian by the immigration office of Arci, an Italian non-profit association.

According to the translation, published on Tuesday, the so-called Libyan coast guard has precedence in rescue operations. Arci said the measure "criminalizes NGOs." The decree was issued on September 15.

'Precedence of intervention'

Under the measure, NGO-run ships need to provide all information requested by the Libyan maritime coordination center. Moreover, they must give Libya's coast guard "precedence of intervention" and must not hinder their operations. According to the text, migrants and asylum seekers rescued by NGOs "are not sent back to the Libyan State except in rare exceptional and emergency cases."

The decree mandates that boats violating these rules will be seized. The measure also states that NGOs must allow Libyan coast guard personnel to board their vessels.

Libya's coast guard will also take the boats and engines used "in smuggling operations" after completing a rescue operation, according to the decree. Likening the measure to the immigration policies of former Italian interior minister Marco Minniti, Arci official Filippo Miraglia criticized the measure. It was an "act that aims to hinder and criminalize rescue operations at sea," Miraglia said.

'Blackmailing' the international community

"It is also illegitimate because it was not issued by a sovereign state but by one of the sides engaged in an ongoing civil war," Miraglia said.

What's more, he said the measure is used to ''blackmail'' the international community and "gain standing" while "giving credibility to Libyan coast guards."

"However, the United Nations' reports and courageous journalistic investigations have widely demonstrated" that Libya's coast guard include "militias and traffickers who are only interested in their own business," he concluded.
 

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