Italy to fine migrant rescue boats who enter Italian waters

Rescuing migrants stranded in the central Mediterranean will become increasingly difficult due to a proposed decree by Italy to heavily fine NGO rescue boats who enter Italy’s ports without authorisation.

The decree gives the Italian Ministry of Interior the power to fine NGO rescue boats up to EUR 50,000 for defying orders to stay out of Italian waters. In the case of repeated violations, offenders risk having their boats seized and their licenses suspended for up to one year.

The far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini praised the decree as a “step forward for the security of this country.” Salvini stated he was “absolutely sure about the fact that it is compliant with all national and international laws”.

In the first draft of the new bill, Salvini initially proposed that rescue ships should be fined up to EUR 5,500 for every migrant they bring onto Italian soil. However, the proposal was eventually revised following heavy criticism. The proposed decree allows undercover police investigations of trafficking operations and approves surveillance on suspected people smugglers.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and several charities expressed deep concern over the latest measures to fine NGO rescue boats and called on Italy to reconsider the proposed decree.

“At a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean, NGO vessels are more crucial than ever,” said Roland Schilling, UNHCR Regional Representative to Southern Europe ad interim. “Without them, it is inevitable that more lives will be lost.”

Frédéric Penard, Director of Operations of SOS Méditerranée, one of several charities involved in rescue operations in the Mediterranean, said: “The reality is even with fewer and fewer humanitarian vessels at sea, people with few alternatives will continue to undertake this deadly sea crossing regardless of the risks. The only difference now is people are nearly four times more likely to die compared to last year.”

The UN has warned that the risk of migrants dying at sea is the highest it has ever been due to the ongoing conflict in Libya and the lack of NGO rescue boats. In recent days, nearly 700 people have left the coast of Libya in an attempt to reach Malta and Italy, according to aid groups.

In recent years, Italy has introduced tough immigration measures to restrict the number of migrants entering Italy. Last year, Italy introduced a new policy to close Italian ports to rescue ships and abolish humanitarian protection for migrants who do not qualify for refugee status.

TMP – 26/06/2019

Photo credit: Stefano Garau / Shutterstock.com

Photo caption: The ship “Rio Segura” arrives at the port of Cagliari with 1250 migrants recovered from the Mediterranean Sea.

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