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>> They've saved tens of thousands of migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean. But now the rescue ships of three humanitarian organizations are heading back to port. Medecins Sans Frontiere, Save the Children and Germany's Sea-Eye all announcing that they are suspending rescue operations because, they say, they feel threatened by Libya's coast guard.
at's the sound of shots being fired from a Libyan coast guard vessel, according to the NGO that shot this footage. The Libyan coast guard has repeatedly clashed with charity vessels, and defends such actions by saying they are necessary to establish control over rescue missions. But the aid groups say their crews can no longer work safely.
We leave a deadly gap in the Mediterranean, Sea-Eye's founder Michael Buschheuer warned on Facebook. The charities are also under pressure from the Italian government, which accuses some NGOs of facilitating people smuggling. Immigration is dominating Italy's political agenda ahead of elections next year. And public opinion is increasingly hostile to migrants in a country that has received more than 600,000 in the past four years.
Italy is working with Libya to increase its role in intercepting departing migrants, and even welcomed MSF's pause in rescue operations. But aid groups and some Italian politicians warn that migrants caught by the Libyan coast guard are taken back to inhumane conditions in detention centers. The European Union's border agency, Frontex, said on Monday that the number of African migrants arriving in Italy from Libya has dropped by more than half in July from June.
That was down to bad weather, clashes in Libya, but also an increased presence of the Libyan coast guard deterring people smugglers.
arities have been responsible for a third of rescue operations at sea since the start of this year. Whilst more than 13,000 migrants have died trying to make the crossing.