Some of the 34 migrants rescued at sea prior to their transfer from the Spanish ship 'Aita Mari' to the Italian Tirrenia ferry 'Raffaele Rubattino', off Sicily, 19 April 2020 | Photo: EPA/SALVAMENTO MARITIMO HUMANITARIO HANDOUT
Some of the 34 migrants rescued at sea prior to their transfer from the Spanish ship 'Aita Mari' to the Italian Tirrenia ferry 'Raffaele Rubattino', off Sicily, 19 April 2020 | Photo: EPA/SALVAMENTO MARITIMO HUMANITARIO HANDOUT

In its 2019-2020 report, Amnesty International reported that Italy continued its policy of criminalizing of NGOs rescuing migrants in 2019 and that more policies hostile to refugees were introduced across Europe.

In an online press conference to present the organization's 2019-2020 report, the head of the Italian office of Amnesty International, Emanuele Russo, warned that the situation as concerns human rights was of particular concern in the country. 

In 2019, one of the most significant issues, he said, was the progressive criminalization of NGOs with a focus on those involved in rescuing migrants at sea. He noted that the policy was created and put in place especially in the first part of the year. 

He added that "the first government under (Prime Minister) Giuseppe Conte continued with the policy without even the decency to hide its contempt for human rights and the dignity of people" and that "no real changes" have been made with the second Conte government, which was created in September with a new coalition that no longer includes the right-wing party the League. 

Closed-port policy 

Amnesty International noted that Italy had last year continued with its closed ports policy in order to stop those rescued from entering the country. 

Between March and April 2019, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini issued four circulars that "specifically targeted NGOs" involved in rescuing migrants, the organisation said. It added that despite the worsening of the conflict and systematic abuses against refugees and migrants in Libya, the Italian authorities continued to provide support to Libyan maritime authorities. 

In November, the Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and Libya -- which sets the terms for cooperation between the two countries on the issue of migration -- was automatically renewed for another three years starting from February 2020. 

Following pressure from some MPs on the issue of its consequences on human rights, the Italian government pledged to amend the agreement but had not done so by the end of the year, the report stated. 

'Solidarity criminalized' in Europe 

The report went on to note that policies came in across Europe in 2019 that pulled some countries further away from rule of law, such as in Poland and Hungary. It stressed that these policies are hostile to the rights of women, asylum seekers, migrants and refugees, stuck amid barbed wire and mandatory detention of migrants especially along the Balkan route. 

The spokesman for the Italian office of Amnesty International, Riccardo Noury, said in presenting the report that "solidarity has been criminalised". 

"In Europe, France, Switzerland and other countries have introduced words such as 'reception', 'rescue' and 'aid' -- words that are linked to justice and good things -- into their criminal codes," Noury noted, adding that "many European countries have continued the illegal practice of sending Afghans back towards a country they consider safe but which in reality sees a rise in civilian deaths every year." 
 

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