FILE PHOTO: Migrants disembark from the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix after it arrived with migrants and a corpse on board, in Catania on the island of Sicily, Italy, May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/ File Photo
By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) – A Malta-based humanitarian group that has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean for three years said on Monday it was suspending operations after months of rising tensions with Italian and Libyan authorities.
The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) was instead sending its rescue ship, Phoenix, to the Bay of Bengal to take aid to Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar for Bangladesh, co-founder Regina Catrambone told Reuters by telephone.
MOA is the fourth group to stop patrols for migrants trying the deadly Mediterranean crossing in the past month.
Last month, Doctors Without Borders — or Medecins sans Frontieres — followed by Save the Children and Germany’s Sea Eye all suspended operations. They said their crews could no longer work safely because of the hostile stance of the Libyan authorities.
That leaves Proactiva Open Arms, Sea Watch and SOS Mediterranee still running rescue operations. On Monday, the Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee with Medecins sans Frontieres medical staff, was the only rescue ship in the Mediterranean.
Catrambone said MOAS does not want to risk having to take migrants back to Libya, where they are locked up for months or even years in overcrowded warehouses with little food, no healthcare and no idea of when they will be freed.
“It’s all too confused right now, and this confusion is not good for those people who pay the price with their lives,” she said.