MILAN - Humanitarian groups that have operated rescue ships in the Mediterranean are disputing the Italian interior minister's narrative that their presence encourages smugglers to send migrants on boats from Libya.
The spokesman for Doctors Without Borders in Italy, Marco Bertotto, said at a news conference on Wednesday that only one out of every six smugglers' boats that departed Libya during the first six months of the year was met by a humanitarian rescue ship.
Bertotto said "this should put a tombstone on the fantastical and false narrative of the attraction effect created by the NGOs."
He says there have been 20 standoffs between private aid ships carrying rescued migrants and European governments that refused to provide immediate safe harbor since Italy's populist government took office last year.
Bertotto says the stalemates involved 2,500 people kept at sea for a total of 165 days.