The Sea Eye 4 is seen with 214 migrants on board, who were rescued in various rescue operations carried out in the Mediterranean Sea | Photo: ANSA/CARMELO IMBESI
The Sea Eye 4 is seen with 214 migrants on board, who were rescued in various rescue operations carried out in the Mediterranean Sea | Photo: ANSA/CARMELO IMBESI

The Italian government is working on introducing tougher measures to limit the capacities of private rescue organizations carrying out rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Italy says sanctions will be included in a new code of conduct.

Private rescue organizations will only be able to carry out a single rescue each time they're at sea - this is one of the options being discussed for a new code of conduct for NGOs involved in rescuing migrants at sea.

The Italian government is exploring several options to limit what NGOs operating in the Mediterranean Sea can actually do.

A meeting was held to this end on 27 December involving the legislative offices of Italy's interior, justice, labor, infrastructure, and foreign ministries as well as the cabinet.

Introducing sanctions against NGOs

At the celebrations for the ten-year anniversary of the founding of the Meloni's Brothers of Italy party, Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi announced the introduction of a "code of conduct" which NGOs will have to adhere to.

As part of this, the interior ministry is studying the possibility of humanitarian organizations being limited to carrying out a single rescue at a time only, having to inform authorities immediately upon completing a rescue mission and requesting a safe port to anchor in. To make this suggested measure more effective, transferring migrants from one vessel to another would also be prohibited.

This code of conduct will reportedly focus on featuring "more effective sanctions compared with the ones in force, which have been disempowered by legislators to the point that a visit by a doctor onboard has become enough to annul the government's actions."

Piantedosi referred to an event last month whereby Italian medical authorities had examined the people on board an NGO vessel and had decided to allow all of them to be allowed ashore on humanitarian grounds - an act the government deemed "bizarre" at the time.

Measures to stop 'sea taxis'

As another measure, the Italian government wants to make it binding for rescued migrants on board these vessels to be asked whether they seek to request international protection; it would then seek to pass on the responsibility and care of these migrants and refugees in question to the country under whose flag the ship is operating.

In an interview with the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, Italian Justice Undersecretary Andrea Delmastro said that these security measures were "excellent" as they aimed at giving "quick, immediate and effective responses".

"NGOs must adopt a code of conduct that records the rescues, communicating them to the authorities, and move on to immediately disembarking them. If the code is not complied with, there are sanctions including to the seizure of the vessel in order to rule out the possibility that it is being used for human trafficking," he extrapolated.

Delmastro added the rationalization that, "if you come across an incident at sea, you have to take (survivors) to the nearest port, otherwise this would mean institutionalizing sea taxis."


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