Since 2014, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have filled a deadly gap in maritime rescue operations, patrolling in international waters close to the 12-nautical-mile line that marks Libyan territorial waters – the area where over-crowded, unseaworthy boats are most likely to be in need. 

Determined to stop asylum seekers arriving by boat after a surge in 2015, European governments enacted plans that trap people in abusive conditions under the guise of saving lives. In October 2016, European forces began training Libyan coast guard forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA), one of the two competing alliances claiming to rule in Libya. In February, Italy (with EU support) accelerated efforts to empower Libyan forces to intercept boats and return people to Libya. Cruelly, they also sought to limit the NGOs’ ability to perform vital search-and-rescue operations.