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Spanish migrant rescue charity 'held hostage at gunpoint' by Libyan officials
MEMBERS of a Spanish charity rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean say they have been threatened at gunpoint by the Libyan coastguard.
According to Proactiva Open Arms, which works closely with refugees risking their lives to reach safer soil, claims officers told them that if they 'did not obey their orders', they would open fire.
A patrol craft approached Proactiva's lifeboat, the Golfo Azzurro, whilst its crew were searching for migrants to help, and demanded they leave the area.
One of the members tweeted in panic: “We're hostages.”
Proactiva's founder, Óscar Camps, said the coastguard threatened to shoot unless they did as they were told, and tried to force them to head for Libyan waters.
“This is a kidnap in every sense of the word,” he said.
After an hour and three-quarters of being effectively under siege, the Golfo Azzurro managed to escape.
“We contacted absolutely everyone we could think of; we don't know which of our calls for help was the one that saved us, but thank you all.”
This frightening incident comes just as the global charities Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders announced they had ceased migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean because of the 'attitude' of the Libyan Navy and the 'uncertainty' generated by the Libyan Army's 'new decisions'.
Save the Children's boat, the Vos Hestia, remains loaded and ready to respond 'as soon as safety can be guaranteed again'.
Libyan authorities have decided to expand its coastguard operations from 12 to 70 nautical miles into the Mediterranean, encroaching 'amply' on international waters, Save the Children says.
The Libyan Armed Forces has accused migrant rescue and support charities of 'helping the mafia' and creating an 'incentive' to refugees and immigrants to make the crossing.
The charities' lifeboats, being so close to the Libyan coast, means waiting migrants believe their crossing will be safer and are more likely to attempt it.
“Now, migrants know that they don't have to be cast adrift in the sea for days, that they're immediately traceable and will be taken safely to Italy,” the Libyan coastguard said recently.
The beaches between Tripoli and the Tunisian border have become the main bastion for human-traffickers in the last two years, despite the growing presence of European patrols.
In the last year, according to the International Migration Organisation (IMO), around 115,000 migrants have made the crossing in the last year whilst another 2,240 have been killed or gone missing.
Although Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children have made the decision to bail out for the time being, Proactiva Open Arms does not intend to do so.
Óscar Camps says: “It'll take more than a handful of shots in the air to make us go home.
“But charities are now uncomfortable witnesses to the situation and, as the civil authorities have not managed to stop them, they're now resorting to military action.
“Things are going a bit too far if they're now firing shots to deter a harmless boat which saves lives.”
The photograph, showing one such lifeboat, is from Proactiva's Facebook page.
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