The Italian government continues its battle against NGOs that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, but the struggle has entered a new, less aggressive phase for avoid a direct clash with Brussels and its European partners, as happened a few weeks ago. The Executive of the far-right Giorgia Meloni approved a decree on Wednesday night to limit the activity of humanitarian boats. The new regulations, which have not yet been fully published, do not prevent the rescued migrants from disembarking, but they do make it considerably more complicated.
Among other things, it introduces a code of conduct that NGOs will have to follow in rescue operations and which, according to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, is aligned with international regulations on maritime rescue and migrations, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
First of all, once they have rescued migrants at sea, the humanitarian ships of these organizations will have to immediately notify the Italian authorities, who will assign them a port of disembarkation. The boats must go to the indicated place without delay “to complete the rescue operation”. Unlike what happens now, the ships will have to go to the assigned port after each rescue, whatever it may be, even if it is not the closest to their position. The objective is to prevent humanitarian ships from spending more time in the search and rescue area and being able to carry out several consecutive rescues.
Italy has been testing this new system for days, which in practice considerably hampers the work of NGOs. All the ships that have recently rescued migrants in the Mediterranean have been assigned ports far away from the area in which they carried out the rescues, which has forced them to increase navigation costs. It is the case of ocean vikingof the French NGO SOS Méditerranée, which carries more than 100 rescued migrants and to which the authorities assigned this Wednesday the port of Ravenna, in the northeast of the country, at a distance of about four days of navigation from the position of the boat, which was near Sicily.
The new rule specifies that NGO boats will not be able to carry out “multiple rescues” unless they are authorized by Italy. In other words, they will not be able to rescue other shipwrecked people they find on their way or transfer migrants rescued by other ships on board. If they do not comply with these rules, they will not be able to enter Italian ports and the captain may be fined up to 50,000 euros. In addition, the authorities may impose the immobilization of the vessel for up to a maximum of two months. If the violations are repeated, the vessels may be confiscated.
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NGOs have protested against this new regulation that closes their activity. “We will be forced to leave the rescue zones in the Mediterranean Sea unprotected, with an inevitable increase in the death toll”, said Marco Bertotto, head of operations in Italy for Doctors Without Borders, in an interview with the newspaper The stamp. And he has lamented the absence of a state rescue system, “a void that we have tried to fill in recent years.” “But if they make our task difficult, when they do not make it impossible, who will go to save lives?”, She has reproached.
With this movement, Italy maintains its pulse against the NGOs that a few weeks ago earned it a confrontation with France, but lowers its tone regarding the provocative policy of closed ports with which it challenged Europe and which was devised by Matteo Salvini, then minister of the Interior and now Minister of Infrastructure, with powers over ports. The leader of the League still has a legal case pending in the courts for preventing for several days the disembarkation in August 2019 of a hundred immigrants rescued by the humanitarian ship of the Spanish NGO Open Arms.
Since the new government took office in October, it made it clear that the management of migratory flows and in particular the reception of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean would change completely with respect to the previous Executive of Mario Draghi. At first, the government of the right-wing coalition applied a “selective disembarkation” policy, to allow only minors to disembark, and adults in precarious health conditions. This approach received much criticism, also from other European partners, and Meloni ended up abandoning it.
Until December 28, more than 102,000 migrants have arrived by sea in Italy, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior. According to the calculations of the Institute for International Policy Studies (ISPI), landings by NGOs represent only about 10% of total arrivals.
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Italy puts obstacles to limit the rescues of NGOs that save migrants at sea