Aid agencies accused of abetting people smuggling at sea

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Migrants sit in a boat during a rescue operation by Italian navy off the coast of the south of the Italian island of Sicily in this November 28, 2013 picture provided by the Italian Marina Militare. About 350 migrants, who were travelling in four separate boats were rescued on Thursday in the operation called Mare Nostrum, Italian navy said. Picture taken November 28. REUTERS/Marina Militare/Handout via Reuters (ITALY - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION MARITIME) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTX15XF5

Non-governmental organizations in Europe are fighting off allegations by an Italian lawyer accusing them of colluding with and aiding people smugglers on the Mediterranean.

“If we are not there to save these people and offer them a helping hand, then they will have no chance to survive,” said Riccardo Gatti, field coordinator on the Golfo Azzurro, which is operated by the NGO Proactiva Open Arms.

The number of migrants rescued from boats off the coast of Libya, where people smugglers operate with impunity, has jumped to more than 23,000 so far this year, 60 percent more than in the same period last year, and some 600 people are estimated to have drowned.

In all, 181,000 migrants reached Italy in 2016 – about half of the total who arrived in the European Union by sea – while 4,581 people are thought to have died trying to reach the country on flimsy, overpacked vessels.

Mariam Zaidi has more from Brussels.

 

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