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NGOs denounce Libyan coastguard opening fire during migrant rescue

The NGO SOS Méditerranée and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) denounced on Monday the shooting of the Libyan coast guard during a rescue operation.

The incident took place on Friday, during an operation by the “team of the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking, chartered by SOS Méditerranée in partnership with the IFRC, to respond to a Mayday relay call concerning a small boat in distress in international waters off the coast of Libya,” the two organizations said in a joint statement.

“Shortly after the evacuation of the 11 survivors on the inflatable lifeboats of the Ocean Viking, a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat approached at high speed and began firing several shots in the immediate vicinity of the victims. The shots were fired less than 100 meters from the rescue team and the survivors – including a woman and five unaccompanied children – who were trying to return to the Ocean Viking”, according to this text.

It was unclear whether the shots were aimed at the lifeboats, but no crew members or migrants were hit. “All are in a state of shock and some were injured by the dangerous maneuvers of the Libyan coastguard”, which caused the canoes to swerve, however, explained the two organizations.

Sunday, in a previous press release, SOS Méditerranée had specified that the crew of the Libyan patrol boat had “fired several times in the air”.

“This is the third time since the beginning of the year that the team of SOS Méditerranée (NGO based in Marseille) has been threatened, intimidated and attacked by the Libyan coast guard”, denounce the organizations, which “call on all governments to ensure that humanitarian workers can provide vital aid at sea without risking their lives”.

Earlier Friday, the Ocean Viking had rescued an initial group of 46 people in the area without incident. To disembark these 57 surviving migrants, the Ocean Viking was designated by the Italian authorities the port of Civitavecchia, three days away.

The central Mediterranean is the most dangerous migration route in the world, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The UN agency estimates that since the beginning of 2023, 1,728 migrants have disappeared there, compared to 1,417 for 2022.

In June, a shipwreck presented as one of the most serious involving migrants in the Mediterranean left at least 82 dead, but in the eastern Mediterranean. The IOM and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate that between 400 and 750 passengers, including women and children, were on the trawler.

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