The EU border agency Frontex has been accusing non-governmental organizations and charities involved in sea rescue of collusion with migrant smugglers. According to confidential reports seen by the Financial Times, the Frontex charges open up a long-simmering dispute between EU officials and NGOs operating in the Mediterranean Sea over how to solve the migration crisis.
“Frontex put its concerns in a confidential report last month, raising the idea that migrants had been given “clear indications before departure on the precise direction to be followed in order to reach the NGOs’ boats”.
The agency made the accusation explicitly in another report last week, which stated: “First reported case where the criminal networks were smuggling migrants directly on an NGO vessel”.
Elsewhere in the reports, Frontex says people rescued by NGO vessels were often “not willing to co-operate with debriefing experts at all” with some claiming “that they were warned [by NGOs] not to co-operate with Italian law enforcement or Frontex”.
The number of rescues triggered by a distress signal fell from roughly two-thirds of all incidents this summer to barely one in 10 in October, according to Frontex figures. This drop-off coincided with a jump in the number of rescues carried out by NGOs in the central Mediterranean. They responded to more than 40 per cent of rescues in October, compared with just 5 per cent at the start of the year.“ (full story Financial Times)
Charities like Médecins Sans Frontières and German Sea Watch operating in the region reacted angrily to the accusations.
“They say a drop in distress calls from boats carrying migrants has been due to increased rescue efforts, meaning that people were picked up before their situation worsened.“
The European Commission is examining whether stricter control of non-governmental rescue missions is needed, although officials stressed that legislation was unlikely.
NGOs have played a crucial role in saving thousands of lives in the central Mediterranean Sea.
Is now the Frontex trying to criminalize the efforts of the NGOs?
This year alone, 4,700 people have died on their way to Europe. Last year the death toll was 3,800.