NGOs which rescue people in the sea off Libya are working ineffectively with security agencies and encouraging traffickers. That's the opinion of the head of the EU border agency Frontex.
The comments have sparked a bitter row with charities who say the alternative is to rescue operations is to leave people to their deaths.
Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri has called for such operations to be re-evaluated in an interview with the conservative daily German newspaper Die Welt.
Leggeri was quoted saying under maritime law everyone at sea had a duty to rescue vessels, "But we must avoid supporting criminal networks."
He said picking up migrants ever closer to the Libyan coast leads traffickers to force more people onto unseaworthy boats with insufficient water and fuel.
He also said 40% of recent rescue operations at sea off the north African country were carried out by non-government organisations, making it impossible to check the origins of the migrants or their smuggling routes if in some cases the NGOs did not cooperate.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has labelled the charges "extremely serious and damaging" and said its humanitarian action was not "the cause but a response" to the crisis.
A spokesperson on refugees working for the Greens within the German parliament said without the NGOs the number of dead would be much higher.
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