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Questions raised over Swiss-funded migrant ‘ferry service‘

A Swiss parliamentarian has asked the government to justify its funding of an NGO that helps rescue migrants off the Libyan coast. Italian authorities are currently examining the possibility of coordination between the NGO and people smugglers.

In 2016, Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOASexternal link) – that rescues migrants making the journey from Libya to Italy by boat – had received a Swiss government grant worth CHF250,000 ($256,233). The activities of MOAS, along with other NGOs like Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children, have drawn the attention of three Italian prosecutors over the possibility of collusion with people smugglers. One of the prosecutors, Carmelo Zuccaro of Sicilian city of Catania, has hypothesised that the NGOs are in contact with the traffickers who inform them of the location of stranded boats at sea.

Swiss parliamentarian Marco Chiesa wants more clarification on the government’s decision to fund MOAS and has submitted two parliamentary questions on the issue on Monday. Chiesa told tvsvizzera that he wants to know why the government has had a change of heart towards MOAS. In 2015, an interpellationexternal link submitted by parliamentarian Carlo Sommaruga to fund MOAS was turned down. The grounds for refusal was that the government preferred to support European-wide initiatives. A foreign ministry spokesperson said that the grant to MOAS in 2016 was an emergency funding to help address humanitarian needs last autumn.

MOAS and other NGOs appeared before Italian Senate Defence Committee earlier this month. The committee decided on greater scrutiny over their activities. However, none of the NGOs are under any kind of judicial inquiry or investigation.

Currently 14 ships operated by nine NGOs are involved in search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean. They were responsible for around 22% of all rescues in the Central Mediterranean in 2016.

swissinfo.ch and tvsvizzera