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European ministers want 'code of conduct' for migrant rescue NGOs

© AFP/File | A girl disembarks from the Aquarius rescue ship run by NGO S.O.S. Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Italian port of Salerno on May 26 2017 after a rescue operation in the Mediterranean

PARIS (AFP) - 

France, Germany and Italy said Monday they had agreed to draw up a "code of conduct" for charities operating boats in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants crossing from Africa to Europe.

The code would be an attempt to regulate operations in the sea where the Italian coast guard, European border patrol forces and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) currently operate vessels that pick up stranded migrants.

Italy has also been pushing for other European countries to open up their ports to rescue ships, in order to share the burden around, but the request was declined by France calling it "counterproductive".

It risked encouraging more migrants to attempt the trip, an aide to French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told AFP on condition of anonymity.

One of the rescue organisations, SOS Mediterranee, which runs an aid vessel along with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has said that forcing rescue boats to go to other European ports instead of Italian ones would be logistically difficult.

More than 83,000 people have been rescued and brought to Italy so far this year after attempting the crossing from Libya, while more than 2,160 have died trying, the UN and the International Organization for Migration says.

The three nations' interior ministers, who met on Sunday in Paris, also agreed to look into ways to support the coast guard in Libya by increasing financing and training.

They also pledged extra support for the UN refugee agency to improve and expand facilities in its camps in the war-ravaged north African country, a statement from the French interior ministry said.

"The idea is to help slow down arrivals of economic migrants at the departure point," the aide to Collomb told AFP, while "helping the Italians manage arrivals."

Their plan, to be presented to all 28 members of the EU at the end of the week, would also suggest ways of improving the process of returning economic migrants to their countries.

The European Union has struggled to put in place a common refugee policy agreed in 2015 that would have seen around 160,000 asylum seekers distributed around the bloc to take the pressure off Italy and Greece where most of them arrive.

Only about 20,000 have been relocated while Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have refused to take part.

"France and Germany agreed to increase their efforts," the statement from the three interior ministers added on Monday.

© 2017 AFP