In Italy, the Meloni government imposes new rules on migrant rescue NGOs

NGOs carrying out rescues in the Mediterranean must now request a port of disembarkation immediately after a rescue operation. Ships’ crews also have an obligation to inform exiles that they can apply for protection in any country of the European Union and not only in Italy.

The Italian government of Giorgia Meloni had announced that it wanted to toughen the rules imposed on NGOs chartering humanitarian ships in the Mediterranean. On Wednesday 28 December, the Council of Ministers approved a decree providing for a series of new, stricter measures against these organisations.

The text requires ships to immediately request a port of disembarkation to which they must proceed “without delay” after a rescue intervention, rather than remaining at sea to rescue the occupants of other boats in danger as is currently the case. case.

>> To (re)read: Rescues in the Mediterranean: Italy welcomes three ships but ensures not to deviate from its policy

The rescue missions of NGOs operating in the Mediterranean generally last several days, with ships carrying out several rescue operations and often welcoming hundreds of people on board.

The new decree adopted by the Italian authorities also requires the crew of rescue ships to inform the migrants they welcome on board of their possibility of applying for international protection in any country of the European Union and not only in the country of disembarkation.

Under this decree, captains violating these rules are liable to fines of up to 50,000 euros and repeated infringements can be sanctioned by immobilization of the vessel.

Severity towards NGOs helping migrants

Since her appointment in October as President of the Italian Council, the leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party, Giorgia Meloni, and her government have adopted a harsh policy towards NGOs rescuing migrants at sea, accused to make the bed of smugglers and traffickers or to encourage migrants to attempt the crossing, which the associations contest.

>> To (re)read: What is Italy risking by not authorizing the disembarkation of migrants who have survived at sea?

Riccardo Gatti, head of the search and rescue team aboard the Geo Barents, a ship chartered by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), judged in an interview published Thursday by La Repubblica that this decree was part of a strategy which “increases the risk of death for thousands of people”. In the eyes of this official, these new rules aimed at preventing multiple rescues flout international law, in addition to being “ethically unacceptable”.

In recent weeks, the Italian authorities have already imposed on humanitarian ships to disembark migrants on board in very distant ports rescue areas. On Tuesday, SOS Méditerranée said it was going to Ravenna, in northeastern Italy, with more than a hundred exiles at its port.

The NGO said it was relieved to be able to disembark the survivors quickly but regretted having to sail for four days to this port located east of the city of Bologna. “[…] We are the only search and rescue NGO currently operating at sea […] As we head north, we fear others in distress at sea cannot be rescued,” the organization posted on Twitter.

In Italy, the Meloni government imposes new rules on migrant rescue NGOs