July 16, 2017 / 3:22 PM / 3 months ago

Belgium should take frigate out of migration mission off Libya: minister

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium should withdraw its frigate from an EU mission to break up human trafficking networks near Libya because the presence of such vessels encouraged migrants to make the perilous journey across the central Mediterranean, the migration minister said.

Migrants ride in a boat after they were rescued by Libyan coastguard off the coast of Gharaboli, east of Tripoli, Libya July 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Belgium has sent a frigate to take part in an EU operation to map and disrupt networks of people smugglers off the Libyan coast who send migrants toward Italy, often on ramshackle dinghies which are barely seaworthy.

While saving the migrants is not the core task of the military vessels that are part of the mission, they often have to do so.

“I personally think this operation should not be repeated because it is pure lunacy. There is no logic to it,” migration minister Theo Francken told broadcaster VTM.

“It is not about whether we should save them or not. We should. But this creates an effect of drawing in migrants with more dead people as a result. It is a shame on Europe,” Francken, who has a record of criticizing NGOs over their behavior in the Mediterranean, added.

A spokeswoman for the Belgian defense ministry said the country would continue to be part of the mission only if the Libyan government allowed EU vessels inside its waters, as foreseen in phase two of the EU operation.

In the first six months of 2017, some 85,000 people arrived on Italy’s southern shores, a fifth more than in the same period last year, EU border agency Frontex said earlier this month.

Nationals of Nigeria, Bangladesh and Ivory Coast, which have a low likelihood of being recognized as asylum seekers in Europe, represented the highest number of arrivals, Frontex added.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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