The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner has said the new decree forces humanitarian rescue ships to ignore distress calls from migrants at sea and delays adequate assistance to meet their basic needs.
Italy should withdraw or modify its new anti-migration decree so it "fully complies" with human rights and international law obligations, said Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner.
Itay's migration decree, which aims to restrict humanitarian rescue ships, was introduced by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing government.
The Council of Europe expressed its concerns over Italy's migration decree in the letter to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi last week. The letter was published online on Thursday (January 2).
Under the decree, migrant rescue ships must request a port and head there immediately instead of continuing its search for further migrant boats.
The decree came into force early January, but still needs to be ratified by parliament. In the meantime, the decree can be revised.
Migrant decree 'prolongs suffering' at sea
According to Mijatovic, the decree forces rescue ships "to ignore other distress calls in the area if they already have rescued persons on board even when they still have capacity to carry out another rescue."
She added that assigning even more distant ports for the rescue vessels "prolongs the suffering of people saved at sea and unduly delays the provision of adequate assistance to meet their basic needs."
In a response, Italy denied the decree prohibits rescues or that it forces humanitarian ships to ignore distress calls, saying that instead it wants to end the "systematic" pick up of sea migrants "without any form of coordination."
According to figures from Italy's interior ministry, around 105,140 migrants reached Italy via sea in 2022, an uptick from 67,477 in 2021 and 34,154 in 2020.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 1,400 migrants died while trying to cross the central Mediterranean in 2022. Humanitarian migrant ships rescue just a little more than 10% of sea arrivals from North Africa.