Immigration: confiscated ships, limited relief… Italy declares war on NGOs

The European Union (EU) is warned: Rome will not give up. Faithful to her electoral promises, the head of the Italian government, Giorgia Meloni decided to put everything in place to reduce the landings of refugees in Italian ports. It also wants to oblige the 23 European partners who joined the migrant redistribution agreements last June to take care of some of the asylum seekers currently in Italy. At the same time, the Minister of the Interior, Matteo Piantedosi, has declared war on NGOs, which he accuses of playing the “taxi of the sea”, by relaying the smugglers to bring refugees into Italy.

To do this, the Minister has devised several solutions. First, the reintroduction of the code of conduct prepared and adopted in 2017 by the centre-left government. This document provided for the presence on board of armed police and a ban on moving refugees from one boat to another. The humanitarian ships therefore had to either tow the boats full of migrants at the risk of capsizing them, or call the Italian coast guard. This document had been signed by several NGOs but not Médecins sans frontières (MSF) for example. “MSF has always claimed its independence, impartiality and consistency. The presence on board of armed police was contrary to our vision of humanitarianism. Signing it would have meant renouncing our principles. says Loris De Filippi, former president of MSF Italy today.

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If the new code of conduct version Giorgia Meloni does not provide for the presence on board of armed police, it will however require ambulance ships to intervene only when there is an actual danger for migrants. In addition, humanitarian ships will have to demonstrate that they have rescued boats that were in danger of sinking in order to be able to dock in an Italian port. The Italian Minister of the Interior also wants to confiscate the ships of NGOs which will “systematically” pick up migrants in the Mediterranean without having informed the authorities responsible for the Italian SAR (“search and rescue”) zone, the localization and rescue zone for people in distress which covers some 495,553 square kilometres. According to the Italian government, this punitive measure should reduce the number of humanitarian ships circulating in the Mediterranean and thus the number of refugees trying to enter the country.

What reaction from Europe?

The other project cherished by Rome is to obtain more money froma European Commission to manage asylum seekers. And also, a more effective redistribution of refugees in the 23 European countries that joined the Malta agreements in 2015 and 2019, partially rewritten last June. For the Italians, the partners lack generosity and do not welcome enough refugees.

The last point of the program concocted by the Ministry of the Interior concerns the strengthening of agreements with North African countries on the repatriation of economic refugees, and incentives to return for migrants who agree to return home in exchange for a small check. “Humanity and firmness” promises Matteo Piantedosi. “Italy will not fail in its duties by rescuing and welcoming migrants, but the selection of refugees will not be made by traffickers, we want to control immigration, not suffer it”.

READ ALSO : Italy investigates NGOs specializing in rescuing migrants

If Europe will easily agree to put pressure on the traffickers and the governments of North Africa, who look the other way and facilitate the departures, it is not said on the other hand that it is also decided to make war on the NGOs, and in particular germany, which released 6 million euros to finance United 4 Rescue, the civic organization founded by the German Protestant Church which has just bought a new ambulance ship, the Sea Watch 5. A meeting should be organized in Brussels on November 25 next. It remains to be seen whether the Italians will succeed in obtaining concrete results.

Immigration: confiscated ships, limited relief… Italy declares war on NGOs