Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese | Photo: ANSA/Angelo Carconi
Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese | Photo: ANSA/Angelo Carconi

Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and representatives from NGOs working in migrant search and rescue in the Mediterranean met on Friday. The ministry called the gathering "a first step for the start of a direct dialogue between the parties."

Representatives of NGOs working in migrant search and rescue (SAR) in the Mediterranean were received on Friday at the Italian interior ministry. Under the previous interior minister, Matteo Salvini, such a meeting would have been unthinkable.

But the new interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, is determined to find common ground with the organizations. The ministry called the meeting a "first step for the start of a direct dialogue between the parties."

The NGOs expressed appreciation for the reopening of dialogue and communicated their political agenda to Lamorgese, in the hopes that "all the parties involved go back to collaborating in an efficient way for safeguarding human life at sea."

Salvini responded to the news with an attack. "Not happy with having tripled migrant disembarkations in less than two months, the minister invites the protagonists of these arrivals to the interior ministry. I'm speechless," Salvini said.

Communication channel

The meeting served to open a communication channel between the NGOs and the ministry, one that had been closed for the past year and a half. Putting the priorities of both sides on the table was another goal, according to the ministry.

The dialogue will continue with other meetings, Lamorgese said. The minister also highlighted the importance of combining humanity and legality as well as the need for rescue operations to take place with respect for the rules. Representatives of the Italian coast guard and the foreign ministry were present at the meeting.

The invitation is to go back to the NGO Code of Conduct, which was adopted under former interior minister Marco Minniti and signed by some of the NGOs. This happened in a sort of "contract" between the Italian government and those who provide rescue operations.

NGOs call for 'restoring efficient rescue system'

Representatives from Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Mediterranea, Open Arms, Pilotes Volontaires, Sea Eye, Sea-Watch and SOS Mediterranee told Lamorgese that there is a need for restoring "an efficient rescue system, able to guarantee respect for life and human rights, limiting deaths and suffering."

They called for an end to delays in assigning ports by Italy, a stop to interceptions by Libya's coast guard, the immediate release of humanitarian ships that they said had been "illegitimately" put under administrative seizure, as well as an end to criminal sanctions for rescues.

"We hope this meeting marks the start of a continuing, concrete, and transparent dialogue," the NGOs said. Although the interior ministry said not all of the NGOs' requests are acceptable, the meeting on Friday started relations that will continue in the search for common ground.

Meanwhile, both the Ocean Viking and the Alan Kurdi rescue vessels on Tuesday received permission to disembark the nearly 200 migrants on board at the port of Pozzallo in Sicily.
 

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