Italy tightens regulations for refugee rescue vessels
Charities that save asylum seekers at sea may now face fines and having their ships seized under new regulations.
The right-wing government of Italy has adopted new measures that might endanger the lives of thousands of people by fining organizations that save asylum seekers at sea and seizing their ships if they violate the new regulations.
Following a rescue, these ships are to request a port and proceed there "without delay," according to a cabinet decision issued on Thursday, rather than continuing to search for additional boats in difficulty.
NGOs and charitable missions currently spend several days in the central Mediterranean carrying out various rescue operations and frequently transporting hundreds of individuals.
The regulation said that the people on board the NGOs' ships must be made aware that they are entitled to request international protection in any country within the European Union.
It further stated that repeat infractions could result in the vessel being impounded. Captains who violate these laws run the danger of paying fines of up to 50,000 euros ($53,175).
The government has targeted the work of maritime rescue organizations since Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni assumed office in October, alleging that they are helping the activities of people traffickers in the midst of a spike in immigration. However, the charity deny the accusations.
Doctors Without Borders' (MSF) Riccardo Gatti, who is in command of a rescue vessel, told the daily newspaper La Repubblica on Thursday that the edict is a component of a policy that "increases the risk of death for hundreds of people."
He claimed that the regulations making it harder to do repeated rescues may violate international treaties and were "ethically unacceptable."
According to figures from the interior ministry, approximately 102,000 asylum seekers have disembarked in Italy so far in 2022 compared to approximately 66,500 during the same period last year. In 2016, there were more than 181,000 people at the peak.
Only 10% of people who arrived in Italy in 2022, according to a document from Matteo Piantedosi's office, were brought ashore by NGO vessels.
It further claimed that these vessels served as a "pull factor" for those risky Mediterranean crossings from Libya.
The NGOs claim that data demonstrates that their presence at sea does not tempt asylum seekers to leave.
In the virtually borderless European Union, the issue of how to handle immigration has been a source of contention for many years.
The majority of boat arrival countries, Italy and Spain, have long argued that other EU members must accept more asylum seekers who get to their beaches.
A diplomatic row between Italy and France over the matter erupted in November after Rome forbade a charity boat carrying nearly 200 passengers from docking in Italian ports. The boat ultimately went to France.
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