Italy tightens the screws on the NGO boats that rescue immigrants in the Mediterranean

Migrants rescued last week by the Ocean Viking ship in the Central Mediterranean, before disembarking in a French port. / REUTERS

The Government of Giorgia Meloni, which considers these ships “taxis”, will only allow immigrants saved in danger of shipwreck to disembark

DARIO MINOR Correspondent. Rome

Of the more than 90,000 immigrants and refugees who have arrived in Italy by sea so far this year, only 12% have done so via NGO ships operating in the Central Mediterranean. Although the vast majority arrived in Italian territory in their own boats or after being picked up by ships of the Coast Guard or the Italian Navy, the Government of Giorgia Meloni has made these humanitarian ships the enemy with which to demonstrate its ‘strong hand’ against illegal immigration. For this reason, he plans to approve a decree with which he will tighten the screws on the NGOs, applying more controls and new fines, while only allowing the disembarkation in Italian ports of those people rescued when they were in danger of shipwreck.

This will end the role of “taxi” for immigrants who develop humanitarian ships, according to what Antonio Tajani, Minister of Foreign Affairs, considered this Monday. “NGOs should not play a political role, but should save people at sea,” Tajani told Rai 3 television channel before taking part in a meeting with his European counterparts. It was intended to promote a common framework in which humanitarian ships dedicated to helping migrants in the Central Mediterranean must carry out their work. According to the head of Italian diplomacy, the presence of these ships exerts a ‘pull effect’ that increases the number of displaced people who throw themselves into the sea from the North African coasts to try to reach Europe. It is the same thesis of an internal report from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) revealed by ‘Adnkronos’, according to which many of the migrants who leave from Libya acknowledge upon arrival in Italy that “in the absence of the ships of the NGOs refuse to set sail».

Also Matteo Salvini, leader of the League and Minister of Infrastructure and Transport who now promises a “hard fist” with humanitarian ships, spoke of the ‘call effect’ in 2018, when he served as Minister of the Interior refusing to accept the landings of immigrants from these ships. With the current government, that climate returns. After preventing for days last week the displaced persons saved by several NGO boats from going ashore, now the Meloni Executive intends to approve a decree so that these organizations “do not continue to act with total illegality”, according to Giovannibattista Fazzolari, ‘right hand ‘ by Meloni, in an interview with the newspaper ‘Libero’.

distress calls

When the code of conduct that the Executive of Rome wants to carry out comes into force, the humanitarian boats will have to demonstrate that the immigrants who disembark in Italy have been rescued in situations of risk of shipwreck. If they don’t, they run the risk of being fined or even having their ship confiscated, according to the ‘Corriere della Sera’. Meloni also hopes to reach agreements with the African countries from which many of the migrants leave to increase the repatriation of undocumented immigrants who have arrived in Italy illegally.

Beyond the debate on these new measures to increase control over humanitarian ships, the flow of people who risk their lives crossing the Sicilian Channel to try to reach Europe has not been interrupted. According to Alarm Phone, which collects the calls for help from immigrants in the Central Mediterranean, there are now close to 200 displaced persons in danger on four different boats. Alarm Phone reports that neither Italy nor Malta have responded to their calls for help.

Italy tightens the screws on the NGO boats that rescue immigrants in the Mediterranean