Italy tightens rules for migrant rescue ships
Italy's government approves new set of rules that would fine charities who rescue migrants and impound their ships.
Italy's government has approved a rule to fine charities who save migrants at sea and impound their ships if they breach the new set of rules.
The move is considered by one campaign group as a life-threatening one.
A cabinet decree approved earlier said these ships should ask for a port and sail to it "without delay" after a rescue, instead of remaining at sea looking for other migrant boats in distress.
Missions of charities, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in the central Mediterranean usually last several days, with charity boats carrying out various rescue operations and taking hundreds of migrants onboard.
The NGOs' ships must notify those onboard that they can demand international protection anywhere in the European Union, the decree said, adding that captains who breach these measures risk fines of up to 50,000 euros ($53,175), and repeated violations can lead to the vessel's impoundment.
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While Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's government has targeted sea rescue charities, accusing them of easing the work of people traffickers amid growing arrivals, the charities denied the accusation.
The decree "increases the risk of death for thousands of people," Riccardo Gatti, in charge of a rescue ship run by the Doctors Without Borders Charity, told daily la Repubblica on Thursday, adding that such rules are "ethically unacceptable."
About 104,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in 2022, according to data, in comparison with about 67,000 in last year's same period, 34,000 in 2020, and more than 181,000 in 2016.
A document from Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi's office said that only around 10% of migrants who arrived in Italy this year were brought ashore by NGO boats and that these boats acted as a "pull factor" for those coming across the Mediterranean from Libya.
Handling immigration in the European Union has caused tensions for years. Italy and Spain have long said EU allies must take on more migrants arriving on their shores.
In November, the issue led to a diplomatic row between France and Italy after the latter refused to let a charity boat carrying around 200 migrants dock in its ports, and the ship eventually sailed to France.