Libyan coast guard abandoned migrants to die in Mediterranean, says rescue charity

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Accusations against Libya

An aid group has blamed both Libya's coast guard and Italy's interior minister for the deaths of a woman and child in a stricken raft. Libya and Italy reject the accusations.

Spanish sea rescue charity Proactiva Open Arms said on Tuesday it had found one woman alive, clinging to the wreckage of a destroyed migrant boat about 80 nautical miles off the Libyan coast.

They also found two people who had died: another woman and a boy aged about five.

Proactiva Open Arms posted images and videos of the wreckage and victims on social media, blaming Libya's coast guard, along with a merchant ship sailing nearby, for failing to help the migrants.

Read more: Libya takes over from Italy on rescuing shipwrecked migrants

On Twitter, the organization's founder, Oscar Camps, accused the Libyan coast guard of destroying the boat and abandoning the trio at sea because they did not want to board the Libyan ship along with some 158 other intercepted migrants.

Libya's coast guard responds

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Various spokespeople for Libya's coast guard disputed that account. Tawfiq al-Sakir told German news agency dpa that no one was left behind. In a statement, the coast guard defended its rescue efforts, saying they were carried out in accordance with international standards.

"All disasters happening in the sea are caused by human traffickers who are only interested in profit and the presence of such irresponsible, nongovernmental groups in the region." Ayoub Gassim said.

Political blame

Later on Tuesday, Camps also blamed Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose government has vowed to stop people fleeing war or poverty from coming to Italy by crossing the Mediterranean via Libya, a key route for human traffickers. Italy's government has been working to support Libya's coast guard.

Read more: Opinion: In bid for political survival, Angela Merkel takes refuge in Fortress Europe

Salvini rejected the criticism.

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"Lies and insults from some foreign NGOs confirm that we are right. Reducing the departures and disembarkations means reducing deaths and reducing the earnings of those who speculate on clandestine migration," he wrote on Facebook.

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Ports closed to migrant rescue ships

Italy and Malta have closed their ports to aid groups operating migrant rescue boats in the Mediterranean. Proactiva Open Arms was among them – this month it had to take the 60 people it had rescued to Barcelona instead.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Tuesday that the number of migrants reaching Spain by sea this year has overtaken arrivals in Italy.

Read more: How far will southern Spain's resources for refugees go?

IOM records show more than 1,440 people attempting to reach Europe have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean so far this year.

According to an AFP photographer on board the Proactiva Open Arms, the boat was headed north Tuesday night carrying the survivor and two bodies, hoping to find a European port it was allowed to disembark at.

se/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

Germans protest in support of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean

Thousands march for migrant rescuers

Protesters in Berlin hold up life jackets while taking part in a protest against the criminalization of migrant and refugee rescue operations run by NGOs. Thousands of people took part in protests in several German cities on Saturday, including Berlin, Hamburg, Hanover, Bremen, Munich and Ulm. Organizers said around 12,000 people marched in the German capital in support of the rescuers.

Germans protest in support of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean

Solidarity with rescuers

A protester with the activist alliance Seebrücke hangs orange clothing during a protest in Hamburg to show solidarity with sea rescue workers. The sign below reads: "Sea rescue is not a crime!" Seebrücke — which means pier, or literally "sea bridge" — was formed after the German NGO ship Lifeline was prevented from docking in several harbors after rescuing over 200 migrants.

Germans protest in support of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean

One of the deadliest years for crossings

A protester in Berlin holds up a sign reading: "Don't forget them at sea." According to the United Nations refugee agency, the number of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe is down considerably from previous years. Despite this, it's been one of the deadliest years in the Mediterranean. Over 1,400 people died or went missing while making the crossing from Africa so far this year.

Germans protest in support of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean

'Open the harbors'

In recent weeks, several NGO ships operating in the Mediterranean have come under fire by European politicians who have either blocked their entry into harbors or delayed their docking. EU leaders accuse the ships of playing into the hands of human traffickers, while the NGOs argue that many people would die if their ships were not allowed to operate.

Germans protest in support of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean

Anger over German government policies

A man carries a sign reading: "Seebrücke instead of Seehofer" — a reference to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's hard-line stance on migration and his repeated threats to unilaterally tighten Germany's borders. Seehofer's power struggle with Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened to topple the government last week, before they reached a compromise that took on some of Seehofer's demands.

Germans protest in support of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean

Urging an end to the 'Fortress Europe' mentality

Many of the protesters also urged for safer routes for migrants and refugees as they try to reach Europe. They also called for a rejection of the "Fortress of Europe" mentality of several European leaders who want to clamp down on asylum-seekers moving through Europe's open borders.

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