LONDON, Jan 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has ended its sea rescue operation aimed at reducing the number of migrants and asylum seekers killed while trying to cross the Mediterranean from north Africa to Europe, it said on Tuesday.
MSF said its three ships had rescued more than 20,000 people in over 120 search and rescue operations during eight months at sea.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said 3,771 people died in 2015 while trying to reach Europe by sea, making the year the deadliest on record for those seeking sanctuary from conflict and poverty.
"Whilst we remain absolutely convinced of the importance of dedicated search and rescue in saving lives, we are doctors and search and rescue shouldn't be our job," Stefano Argenziano, MSF manager of migration operations, said in a statement.
"We very much hope that European resources will be sufficient in 2016 and that our boats will not be required."
The charity said it would remain on standby to intervene if European Union countries failed to help people trying to reach the continent in the coming months.
It also called on EU countries to find safe and legal ways for refugees and migrants to reach Europe so that they did not have to rely on smugglers and rickety boats to make the journey.
"What will really end deaths at sea, in the central Mediterranean as well as in the Aegean, is the implementation of policies and practices that provide safe and legal channels to the EU and eliminate the need for people to use smugglers and overcrowded rubber and wooden boats to reach the shores of Europe," said Brice de la Vigne, MSF director of operations.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)