The international aid group Save the Children is suspending its efforts to rescue migrants making the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing from Libya.
Tuesday, the organization said the combination of falling numbers of crossings and worsening security forced it to stop sending its ship, the Vos Hestia, out from its port in Italy.
Save the Children said the ship rescued as many as 10,000 migrants over the past year after the smugglers’ vessels they were in foundered at sea.
The announcement comes just a day after Italian authorities searched the Vos Hestia as part of Rome’s efforts to deter people smuggling across the Mediterranean. Save the Children said the decision to suspend operations wasn’t related to the search and it told journalists that Italian prosecutors had given assurances it is not under investigation. It seems the search might be linked, however, to crew members on the boat.
In August, police seized a boat operated by a German aid organization, saying there was evidence some people smugglers escorted migrants to that boat. Save the Children says it has nothing to do with that case.
Save the Children was one of the first aid groups to sign a voluntary code of conduct with the Italian government to ensure they aren’t colluding with or encouraging smuggling.
The number of arriving migrants is down about 25 percent so far this year from last year, to around 110,000. And the drop will get worse as the winter closes in. Very few rescue boats are heading out into the Mediterranean now because of falling need.
Tens of thousands of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere have struggled to sail from Libya to Italy over the past few years. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have also trekked through Turkey to Europe.
Thousands have died in the sea crossing, prompting both rescue efforts by private aid groups and efforts by the Italian government to staunch the flow.
Rome, with the EU’s backing, has helped Libya with efforts to police its vast desert land borders and to patrol its coast to prevent migrants from entering.