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Prosecutor defends allegation of collusion by migrant NGOs

Associated Press logo Associated Press 27/04/2017 By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press

MILAN — An Italian prosecutor on Thursday defended his accusation that non-governmental organizations operating rescue boats in the Mediterranean are colluding with migrant smugglers after one humanitarian organization said the charge threatened its work and requested proof for the allegation.

Carmelo Zuccaro, chief prosecutor for the Sicilian city of Catania, told RAI state television that he believes that some NGOs working to rescue migrants just outside Libyan waters "could be financed by traffickers" and that their ultimate goal could be "to destabilize the Italian economy." He has cited wiretapped conversations.

In separate comments to the ANSA news agency, Zuccaro said he was identifying on a phenomenon, not individual organizations, in an attempt to prevent greater abuses. He said prosecutors would need investigative help to seek charges.

"It is my duty to denounce that there are people who are enriching themselves from immigration, with the resources destined for assistance that attract Mafiosi appetites," Zuccaro told ANSA.

He said that non-governmental organizations like Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders were acting honorably, adding that "money given to them is well-spent."

Earlier Thursday, Save the Children said that Zuccaro's allegations that NGOS were in direct contact with smugglers were helping "to creating a climate of mistrust that is at the expense of children, women and men in flight."

The group repeated that it had no contact with traffickers and that its ship, Vos Hestia, operates legally and that its finances were transparent. It said Catania prosecutors had confirmed that it is "above suspicion."

Some 35,700 migrants have been rescued in the central Mediterranean route through Easter weekend, compared with nearly 25,000 a year earlier, according to the UN refugee agency.

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