A crew from SOS Humanity hand out life vests to people on board an overcrowded dinghy before bringing them on board the rescue ship | Photo: ANSA/SOS HUMANITY
A crew from SOS Humanity hand out life vests to people on board an overcrowded dinghy before bringing them on board the rescue ship | Photo: ANSA/SOS HUMANITY

A dispute continues between NGOs operating in the Mediterranean and the Italian government, after Italy passed a decree to tighten regulations against the operation of rescue ships. The interior minister has been meeting with Mediterranean neighbors to try and cut down on migration.

A law decree, including a tightening of regulations governing the operation of humanitarian ships, "is not amendable and should simply be abrogated since it hinders rescues at sea", declared NGOs involved in migrant rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, before a joint meeting of the constitutional affairs and transportation committees in Italy's lower house (Camera dei Deputati), this week.

The NGOS suggested that, instead an inquiry commission should be set up, to investigate what is happening in the Mediterranean.

In further efforts to reduce the numbers of migrants arriving in Italy, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi met with his Turkish counterpart Süleyman Soylu on January 16. The two ministers agreed to deploy Turkish experts in Italy to deal with the issue of migrants.

'Measure reduces number of people saved'

The group of NGOs protesting the measure, from Alarm Phone to Emergency, from ARCI to Open Arms, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Sea Watch, SOS Mediterranee, and Migrantes, have gathered data which they say demonstrates the negative effects of the decree on their rescue efforts.

MSF mission chief Juan Matias Gil said that since the decree was passed the NGO rescue ships , "leave after the first rescue while before we conducted four to five rescues on average per mission." In effect, the average number of people rescued has dropped, as a result, from 300 to 80.

The regulation, Sea Watch's Giorgia Linardi said, "creates problems. Recently we have been using smaller and faster vessels that can [cover more area] in the search and rescue zone".

Appealing the decree?

The NGOs will be assessing the possibility of appealing the law decree. "The Court of Cassation," Linardi stressed, "reiterated in 2020 that no one should neglect saving anyone who is in difficulty at sea."

In the words of ARCI's Filippo Miraglia, "the sole concrete objective, beyond the criminalization of rescues at sea, and thus of the NGOs that engage in them instead of the state, is to get the ships in the central Mediterranean away [in order] to limit their ability to operate."

The head of the Italian Refugees Council, Roberto Zaccaria, called the law decree "incongruous and discriminatory."

Alongside the NGOs at the press conference that preceded the hearing was More Europe MP Riccardo Magi.

"This measure, which I would rename the lying decree and which provides for non-rescue, is the lowest moment in the life of [government] institutions," he said.

Magi added that the decree is problematic "since it sets conditions due to which it is difficult to save lives at sea. The lie is that NGOs are engaging in activities that are against the law, that they are aiding and abetting illegal immigration through rescues."

Turkish experts in Italy against illegal immigration

While, due to bad weather, migrant landings have temporarily halted in recent days, the Italian government has been working with its Mediterranean partners and the countries of origin and transit to try and curb down on migrant departures.

After a visit on Friday to Turkey by Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, on January 16 Interior Minister Piantedosi travelled to Ankara accompanied by police chief Lamberto Giannini to discuss police cooperation, counterterrorism, organized crime, and the fight against irregular migration.

Piantedosi and his Turkish counterpart Soylu signed a memorandum of understanding on the temporary assignment of experts from the Turkish general directorate of security to Italy to counter illegal migration.


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