Migrants in the Mediterranean: Italy tightens the rules imposed on NGOs

On Wednesday December 28, 2022, the Italian Council of Ministers adopted a decree, which should be transformed into law within two months – provided it is not challenged by the Constitutional Court –, imposing a new code of conduct for NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

► What are the most salient points?

The decree aims to reduce NGO operations at sea and relieve Italy of certain responsibilities. It was strongly wanted by Giorgia Meloni and Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, close to League leader and Vice-President of the Council Matteo Salvini.

NGOs will be required to immediately notify the competent authorities of a rescue and no longer rescue other boats during the same mission. Ships will have to reach the safe port assigned to them, even if it is in the north of the country, such as Ravenna or Livorno. Which means, as is already the case for theocean viking of SOS Méditerranée and the ship Life Support from the Italian NGO Emergency, four extra sailing days and additional costs.

In addition, the decree provides that the crew of the ships inform migrants of their possibility of seeking asylum in any EU country.

► What sanctions are provided for NGOs that violate this code of conduct and how do we react in Italy?

Captains violating these rules will be liable to fines of up to €50,000 and repeated infringements will allow the prefects of the regions concerned to decide to immobilize the vessel. According to a poll by the Eurometra institute, 63% of Italians approve of the government line. But prestigious personalities like the former judge Armando Spataro denounce the unconstitutionality of the decree.

“Rescuing migrants and abandoning other shipwrecked people nearby is a violation of our Penal Code which requires saving lives at sea. relief area violates national and international standards “, he assures.

Armando Spataro also points to the article providing for the initiation of asylum procedures on board a ship. “This concept is deprived of any legal basis. »

► NGOs, whose ships rescued 12% of migrants arriving in Italy in 2022 (1), do they intend to continue their missions despite the restrictions?

Fabrizio Gatti, Vessel Operations Manager Geo Barents of the Italian section of MSF, which is preparing to leave the port of Augusta in Sicily, considers the decree inhuman. “In the absence of a centralized rescue system, since 2014, 25,000 migrants have perished at sea, he complains. thin out the Mediterranean of relief arrangements, this means increasing the number of deaths and illegal push-backs to Libya. »

German NGO Sea-Eye will not follow the rules “who violate international law and the laws of their country”. Emergency president Rossella Miccio echoes this. “We will respect a code of conduct for NGOs provided it does not contradict international treaties. »

Migrants in the Mediterranean: Italy tightens the rules imposed on NGOs