German doctor, Leona Blankenstein claimed that the Libyan Coast Guard threatened to blast her rescue aircraft if she did not leave rescued migrants at sea immediately, according to the AFP.
The German doctor said she encountered the Fezzan patrol boat as it picked up migrants in Maltese waters on October 25th.
“Get away from Libyan territorial (waters), otherwise we’ll shoot you with SAM (surface-to-air) missiles,” warned the vessel, one of several Italy gave to Libya under a controversial European Union (EU)-backed deal to stop migrants reaching Europe. The Libyans brought the migrants onboard before scuttling their rubber boat with incendiary ammunition, according to Sea-Watch footage.
“It happened in just seconds… Their behavior is highly unpredictable, so you never know what they are going to do next,” she said. The warning “was threat enough for me to leave the area immediately”, she added.
The 2017 deal has faced renewed scrutiny since far-right Italian leader Giorgia Meloni’s government took office, adopting a hardline stance against asylum seekers rescued at sea. Despite years of criticism by charities and human rights groups, Italy quietly renewed the accord earlier this month.
Campaigners say nearly 100,000 people have been intercepted by Libyan authorities since the deal, under which Italy and the EU agreed to train and equip Libya’s coastguard.
The European Commission has said the accord aims “to prevent the loss of life in the Mediterranean and at the same time to crack down on migrant smuggling and human trafficking networks”. Last year 2,062 were reported dead or missing, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Libyan authorities deny reports that migrants are abused. “The arrests are carried out according to the rules in place,” a migration official said.
In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy for intercepting and forcibly returning people to Libya, prompting a new approach. After the 2017 deal, rescue charities were “told by Italy to alert the Libyan coastguard instead”, according to Chiara Denaro from Alarm Phone, a hotline used by migrants in distress.
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