The Italian interior ministry is expected to push forward with a decree that would fine charities that attempt to bring migrants to the country's ports. The UN has called the decree a "political attempt to criminalize search and rescue operations."
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) is urging the Italian interior ministry to hold off on a decree that would hurt migrant rescue charities.
In a May 15 letter to Italy's government, which was released on Saturday, the OHCHR decried the decree. The letter says the measures would violate migrants' human rights, which are in UN conventions that Italy has signed. German news agency dpa says the letter states, "we believe that this represents yet another political attempt to criminalize search and rescue operations carried out by civil society organizations in the Mediterranean."
The OHCHR also had "grave concerns" about sanctions that may be placed on non-government organizations (NGOs) that attempt to bring migrants to Italian ports. NGOs may be slapped with sanctions of up to 5,500€ ($6,140) per rescued migrant if they enter Italian waters.
'Necessary and urgent'
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini proposed the decree before the European Parliament elections, which are scheduled for later this week. His ministry's tough policies on migration, which includes boosting the Libyan coast guard's ability to bring back migrants that it picks up in the Mediterranean Sea, have boosted his League Party's popularity. The UN has criticized the policy to return migrants to Libya, saying the country is not a safe port.
The Associated Press reports the Italian interior ministry said the decree was "necessary and urgent."
In a Sunday statement, the Italian foreign ministry said the OHCHR letter carried no judicial weight and implied the contents of the letter were based on wrong information. It said that since the beginning of 2018, Italy has only received eight such letters, while the US received 30, the UK 16 and France 12.
The Interior Ministry added that Turkey and North Korea also punish border violators and Italy has had fines in its legal code, which were only updated. The decree is expected to be signed into effect on Monday.
"The hope is that the authoritative UN dedicates its energies to the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela rather than engage in electoral campaigning in Italy," said the Italian Interior Ministry.