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German NGO halts refugee rescue operations off Libya

German NGO halts refugee rescue operations off Libya
From Al Jazeera - August 13, 2017

A German aid group said it was suspending its refugee rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea citing security concerns after Libya barred foreign vessels from a stretch of water off its coast.

Sunday's announcement comes a day after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it was halting the use of its largest boat in the area because of an "increasingly hostile environment for lifesaving rescue operations" of asylum seekers.

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

Tensions have risen since the Libyan navy on Thursday ordered foreign vessels to stay out of a coastal search-and-rescue zone, a measure it said was specifically aimed at non-governmental groups.

Libyan authorities have accused charities of aiding human smugglers with their rescues at sea, hampering efforts to crack down on the migration route.

"Under these circumstances, a continuation of our rescue work is not currently possible. It would be irresponsible towards our crews," Sea Eye founder Michael Buschheuer said.

But he cautioned that the retreat of the aid groups was putting lives at risk.

"We leave behind a deadly gap in the Mediterranean," he warned.

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