Sicilian prosecutor says some rescue NGOs are working with human traffickers

An Italian prosecutor has said that he has evidence of direct links between human traffickers in Libya and ships run by NGOs that have been picking up migrants at sea.

Catania Chief Prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro told the Italian newspaper La Stampa: “We don’t know if and how to use this information in the judicial process, but we are certain enough of what we are saying” He said that among other evidence, his office had records of  telephone calls from Libya to some NGOs, which he did not name.

Zuccaro’s investigation has been under way since at least the start of the year. In February he said that his probe was not looking at big prestigious organisations “ but all the small ones that seem to have sophisticated hardware, such as drones.”

Last year the UK’s Financial Times said it had seen evidence gathered by the European border security force Frontex. One file from last November suggested that people-smugglers told migrants in which direction to head in order to reach a rescue craft. Another document dealt wth an incident where it was alleged the smugglers had actually embarked migrants directly onto an NGO vessel. No names were given.

The NGOs have issued fierce denials of collusion. But they have also insisted  that if they were not at sea many more migrants would drown. The counter-argument has been that the presence of some nine NGOs seeking out migrant craft is actually boosting the flow of passengers and thus the smugglers’ business.

Last week, the International Organisation for Migration reported that at least a thousand people have died so far this year in making the sea crossing to Europe, most of them from Libya.