Footage has emerged of the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) allegedly firing warning shots at a ship operated by Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish NGO that rescues migrants at sea. The incident occurred as the boat was patrolling international waters on Monday morning (7 August).
The 21-second-long footage shared on Twitter shows the shots being fired which can also be heard twice in the footage. "We were without any migrant on board at that moment, we were just patrolling," Laura Lanuza, head of media at Proactiva Open Arms, told IBTimes UK.
She added that the LCG was from Tripoli and was being trained by "European Coast Guard and police" as part of a recent agreement to control immigration from Libya towards Europe.
As per the accord, Italy and the EU committed to providing funds and training to the LCG to stop boats from reaching Italian shores.
"These boats have been paid for or sold by the EU and these coast guard members have been trained by the EU coast guard authority, but even if we are in international waters, they are behaving in this unbalanced way towards NGOs and migrants," Lanuza said.
She also said the organisation was involved in a rescue operation coordinated by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC).
The Golfo Azzurro boat, operated by the NGO, located three migrants and rescued them 100 miles away from the Libyan coast, in waters administered by Maltese authorities. The migrants have not been able to disembark in Malta nor in Lampedusa, Italy, as permission was denied.
Malta said it could not allow the migrants to disembark because they should be taken to Lampedusa, the nearest port to where the rescue took place, Reuters reported. It is not clear why Lampedusa denied access to the boat.
"It has been at least 50 hours that they have migrants on board and have no permission to disembark. They are blocked there," Lanuza explained.
She claimed both incidents were the result of anti-immigration policies implemented this year, which have made NGO work more difficult and dangerous.
"It is getting more difficult for us to work, things are changing quickly and the agreements between EU, Italy and Libya are affecting us and will affect us," she said.
Earlier this year, the Italian government issued a Code of Conduct for NGOs, stipulating that rescue ships operated by humanitarian organisations cannot enter Libyan waters to pick up migrants and help them reach Italy.
Furthermore, boats will have to transport armed police officers in an effort to catch human smugglers.
Only three out of eight humanitarian organisations operating in the area have agreed to comply with the code of conduct, Reuters reported earlier this month. Proactiva is among those that signed the agreement.
In August, Italy sent a naval mission to help the Libyan coast guard prevent boats with migrants from reaching its shores. The ships were sent after the country approved a plan known as "Fortress Europe".
The EU has not responded to a request for a comment.
At the time of the February accord, the UN and human rights groups warned the agreement would put in danger thousands of migrants who would be kept in "inhumane conditions" at illegal detention centres in Libya.
A report published on 9 August collected interviews with migrants who say they had been raped, torturted and sold as slaves in Libya before they managed to cross the mediterranean Sea and reach Italy.
At least 600,000 migrants have reached Italy since 2014. Of these, more than 180,000 arrived via Libya in 2016. More than 95,000 have already arrived since the beginning of 2017.