Migrant crisis: Italy blocks German aid ship at Lampedu…

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A large force of coast guards escorted the ship to Lampedusa’s port

The Italian Coast Guard is questioning the crew of a German rescue ship on the isle of Lampedusa, amid a dispute over Italy’s code of conduct for handling migrants at sea.

The Iuventa is operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet, which called the Italian check “a standard procedure”.

Jugend Rettet, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and some other aid NGOs reject the new Italian code of conduct.

Italy plans to send warships close to the Libyan coast to pick up migrants.

The Italian parliament is debating the plan, already agreed by the government, which is aimed at stopping the flow of unstable, overcrowded migrant boats across the Mediterranean to Italy.

A tweet from Jugend Rettet (Youth Rescues) said the Iuventa “was not confiscated”. “Our crew is not arrested. What happened is a standard procedure,” it said.

Two Syrian migrants were taken ashore from the vessel, Italian media reported. Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island near North Africa, has struggled to house boatloads of migrants in recent years.

On Monday three aid NGOs, out of nine operating in the central Mediterranean, accepted the Italian code of conduct.

But MSF and Jugend Rettet object to the requirement for armed police to board their ships and for rescuers to stop transferring migrants from one ship to another. They want to minimise their trips back to port, because those trips cost them precious time and money.

Most migrants have fled poverty in Nigeria and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Many report brutality, including sexual abuse, at the hands of people-smugglers in Libya.

Italy says its naval deployment is being negotiated with the UN-recognised Libyan government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj.

Mr Sarraj said his administration had agreed to receive only training and arms from Italy. “Libya’s national sovereignty is a red line that nobody must cross,” he said.

The Libyan foreign ministry later said preventing the illegal flow of migrants – a lucrative business for people smugglers – “may require the presence of some Italian naval vessels to work from Tripoli’s maritime port, for this purpose only”.

But Italy’s role would have to be coordinated with the Libyan authorities, the statement said.

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The Italian force, led by a frigate, could be patrolling in Libyan waters next week

More than 94,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year, according to the UN – a record number. More than 2,370 have died trying to reach Italy.

Migrants picked up in Libyan coastal waters – and not international waters – can be legally returned to Libya, but aid workers say conditions in migrant reception camps there are dire.

Since 2015 as many as a dozen NGO aid ships have been patrolling off Libya to pick up migrants in distress. So far this year they have handled 35% of the rescues, Italy’s Coast Guard says.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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