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Anti-migrant ship ignores help from rescue activists

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Refugee Rescue

Libya has warned that it's extending its own search-and-rescue area to beyond the 12-mile limit Italy and other countries consider the boundary of Libyan territorial waters.

Libya has restricted the access of humanitarian vessels carrying out rescues in worldwide waters, as part of a bilateral attempt with Italy to control the flow of illegal migration across a Mediterrenean channel between the two countries.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it would suspend search and rescue activity of its ship, 'Prudence, ' saying on Saturday that the vessel would cease operations because of "hostility" from Libya.

Tensions have been on the rise since the Libyan navy on August 10 ordered foreign vessels to stay out of a coastal search and rescue zone, a measure it said was specifically aimed at non-governmental groups. "This is an unacceptable assault on people's lives and dignity".

Catalan NGO Practiva Open Arms accused the Libyan Coast Guard of firing warning shots at its boat and threatening the crew last week.

In a statement, the aid group Sea Eye said it was with "a heavy heart" that it had made a decision to follow suit after the Libyan government's "explicit threat against the private NGOs".

"Under these circumstances, a continuation of our rescue work is not now possible".

In the last six weeks the number of migrant arrivals in Italy has slowed sharply and Rome has begun collaborating more closely with the Libyan coastguard, which De Filippi said was threatening the NGOs and preventing them from working.

This month, Italy began a naval mission in Libyan waters to provide technical and operational support to its coastguard, despite opposition from factions in eastern Libya that oppose the United Nations -backed government based in Tripoli.

Libya is a popular jumping-off point for migrants hoping to reach European shores.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, however, welcomed Libya's stepped-up efforts to curb the flow of desperate people. According to United Nations data, over 95,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Italy by sea in 2017, while more than 2,350 refugees died in the sea. Nearly 600,000 migrants have arrived in Italy over the past four years.

Italy is requiring groups operating rescue ships to subscribe to the rules else or risk not being allowed to dock in Italian ports. "And whoever doesn't drown will be intercepted and brought back to Libya, which we know to be a place of absent legality, arbitrary detention and extreme violence".

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