Sea rescue charities rebel against Italian anti-immigration rules | Italy
Sea rescue charities are rebelling against tough new anti-immigration measures imposed by the Italian government, arguing that they could result in thousands of deaths.
Ship captains risk fines of €50,000 and having their vessels impounded if they break the rules, which include a requirement to request a port and sail to it immediately after undertaking one rescue instead of remaining at sea to rescue people from other boats in difficulty.
Recent rescues have resulted in ships being granted ports in central and northern Italy, forcing them to make longer journeys and therefore reducing their time at sea saving lives.
Charities are required to inform those onboard that they can apply for asylum anywhere in the European Union.
Emanuele Prisco, an undersecretary at the interior ministry, described the initiative as part of “the mother of all battles”, with the goal being to “limit departures and to prevent traffickers and mafia [organisations] from earning money off the needs of many”.
But charities have said they will not accept the measures. “Sea-Eye will not follow any illegal code of conduct or any other official directive that violates international law or the laws of our flag state, which in our case is Germany,” said Annika Fischer, a board member of the German NGO. “We reject this so-called NGO code and fear it could lead to conflicts with the Italian authorities. We expect the German government to protect us.”
Geo Barents, a vessel operated by Médecins Sans Frontières, is preparing to leave Sicily for a rescue mission over the next couple of days. “The objective of the government strategy is to obstruct the NGOs’ search and rescue activities and [it] will exponentially increase the risks of thousands of people dying,” said Juan Matías Gil, the head of mission for search and rescue at Médecins Sans Frontières.
Gil said almost 1,400 people had died in the central Mediterranean this year. “Saving lives is our imperative,” he said.
In recent weeks rescue ships with hundreds of people onboard have been assigned ports in central and northern Italy including Livorno in Tuscany and Ravenna, a port on the Adriatic coast.
The first ship to arrive in Italy under the new rules will be Ocean Viking, a vessel operated by SOS Mediterranée, which is due to dock in Ravenna with 113 people onboard on Saturday morning. After being assigned the port on Tuesday, Ocean Viking said it would take “four long days” to reach Ravenna.