Doctors Without Borders has slammed the EU's new refugee deal, warning that the European governments will be responsible for putting the lives of the most vulnerable people at stake.
"The only thing European states appear to have agreed on is to block people at the doorstep of Europe regardless of how vulnerable they are, or what horrors they are escaping," said Karline Kleijerthe, the chief of emergencies at the charity, known by its French acronym MSF.
Kleijer expressed deep concern on Friday about the likelihood of deportation of refugees to crisis-hit Libya, saying, "Without batting an eyelid, they have formalized - through financing and training - the use of the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people and return them to Libya."
"European governments do this fully in the knowledge that these people will be sent to arbitrary detention and subject to extreme abuse," she added.
The top MSF official warned that the EU's "actions block and obstruct" the NGO "from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while dehumanizing people in need."
"Any deaths caused by this are now at their hands," she said.
Kleijer also accused the EU agreement of seeking to "demonize non-governmental search and rescue operations."
The remarks came after EU leaders reached an agreement following intensive negotiations overnight in Brussels and agreed to consider setting up "disembarkation platforms" outside the EU, most probably in North Africa, in an attempt to discourage refugees from boarding EU-bound smuggler vessels.
Authorities are supposed to distinguish between irregular asylum seekers admissible into the EU in these reception centers, but no third country has so far offered to host such platforms.
Under the agreement, EU member states could also form migrant processing centers voluntarily to see if the asylum seekers returned home as economic migrants or they were admitted as refugees in the countries which are willing to take them.
Europe has faced its worst refugee crisis since World War II. The continent has been hit since 2014 by an unprecedented influx of refugees fleeing conflict-ridden zones in North Africa and the Middle East, in particular Syria.
Over the past five years, more than 600,000 refugees have reached Italy by risking their lives on rickety human smuggler boats in the sea. Some 500,000 of them are still staying in the country.
According to the UN migration agency (IOM), over 3,000 refugees lost their lives died crossing the Mediterranean in 2017.
The majority of refugees from Africa take the sea route from Libya to Italy to reach Europe, while some others depart from Morocco to Spain.