The head of EU border agency Frontex on Monday criticised charities that rescue migrants off Libya, arguing that they encourage the traffickers who profit from the dangerous Mediterranean crossings.
Leggeri said 40 percent of recent rescue operations at sea off the North African country “were carried out by non-government organisations”.
He said that under maritime law everyone at sea has a duty to rescue vessels and people in distress.
“But we must avoid supporting the business of criminal networks and traffickers in Libya through European vessels picking up migrants ever closer to the Libyan coast,” said the director of Warsaw-based Frontex.
“This leads traffickers to force even more migrants onto unseaworthy boats with insufficient water and fuel than in previous years.”
Frontex operates on the EU’s external borders, off Italy and the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, but not off the coast of Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi.
The Frontex boss also charged that some NGOs cooperate poorly with EU security agencies, which “makes it more difficult … to gain information on trafficking networks through interviews with migrants and to open police investigations”.
Frontex had criticised NGOs in a report in December, charging they were picking up migrants at sea “like taxis”.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at the time labelled the charges “extremely serious and damaging” and said its humanitarian action was not “the cause but a response” to the crisis.
Frontex said in January that migrant arrivals by sea last year had plunged by almost two-thirds to 364,000 compared with 2015, mainly due to an EU border deal with Turkey that sharply reduced landings in Greece.
But the agency said Italy was the exception with a record 181,000 arrivals, mostly from Africa via the Mediterranean, a 20 percent rise from 2015.
Leggeri predicted in the interview that, because of the Libya-Italy route, “one should expect that more will come in 2017 than in 2016”.