Rome: The Italian government on Sunday welcomed Libya's decision to bar foreign vessels from a stretch of water off its coast, as both countries struggle with a migrant crisis that has engulfed Europe in recent years.
Italy applauds Libya's decision on migrant 'search and rescue' zone
The comments from Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano came as a second non-governmental organisation announced it was suspending operations in the area in response to the Libyan move.
The Libyan government "is ready to put in place a search and rescue zone in its waters, work with Europe and invest in its coastguards," Alfano told La Stampa dailyon Sunday.
"This sends a signal that the balance is being restored in the Mediterranean."
Libya's navy last week ordered foreign vessels to stay out of a coastal "search and rescue zone" for migrants headed for Europe, saying the measure was aimed at non-governmental organisations it accuses of facilitating illegal migration.
Six years since a revolution that toppled longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya has become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Tens of thousands of migrants have resorted to paying people traffickers for the journey, often on overcrowded and unseaworthy boats, and charities have dispatched ships to rescue them from drowning.
Meanwhile, Libya and Italy —where the vast majority of migrants land— have worked together to stem the flow, with Italy also moving to rein in NGOs helping the multinational rescue operations by making them sign up to a new code of conduct.
"We need a significant, I repeat a significant European economic investment in Libya and in Africa," Alfano said.
"Europe has to decide if the theme of migration flows is an absolute priority on the same scale as the economy. For us, it is".
The Libyan measure prompted the German aid group Sea Eye to announce today it is suspending its migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean, citing security concerns.
Sea Eye said in a statement that it was with "a heavy heart" that it made its decision, after the Libyan government's "explicit threat against the private NGOs".