The Italian Parliament approved the controversial maritime rescue law that hinders humanitarian aid in the Mediterranean

File photo of the crew of the rescue ship ‘Ocean Viking’ handing out life jackets to a group of migrants on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea Oct 25, 2022. Camille Martin Juan/Sos Mediterranee/Handout via REUTERS (Camille Martin Juan/Sos Mediterranean/)

The Italian Parliament on Thursday approved a government decree establishing a code of conduct for humanitarian vessels carrying migrantsdespite criticism from the United Nations and humanitarian groups that say it will endanger human lives.

The new set of rules is part of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s efforts to restrict rescue boats, which her government says encourage people to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Aid organizations deny this, saying that migrants go to sea regardless of whether there are rescue boats nearby.

According to the new law, ships must request access to a port and sail to it “without delay” after a rescueinstead of staying at sea in search of other boats of migrants in distress.

Previously, vessels operated by charities or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often spent several days in the central Mediterranean, often completing multiple salvages before heading north to Italy.

The law establishes that captains who fail to comply with these rules risk fines of up to $53,355 and repeated violations can result in the seizure of their vessels.

Wednesday photo of a migrant being rescued by members of the group
Wednesday photo of a migrant being rescued by members of the “Doctors Without Borders” group in the Mediterranean Jan 25, 2023. Mohamad Cheblak/Doctors without Borders/Handout via REUTERS (MOHAMAD CHEBLAK/DOCTORS WITHOUT/)

“If immigration is not controlled, it creates exploitation, forced labor, illegal work,” he said Thursday in Parliament Nicola Molteniundersecretary of the Ministry of the Interior.

“If immigration is not controlled, pockets of illegality and crime are created, generating a feeling of social insecurity,” he added.

Humanitarian groups said that banning multiple rescues would cause more and more deathswhile the United Nations urged Italy to withdraw the proposal after it got an initial green light from the lower house of parliament in mid-February.

This is simply the wrong way to approach this humanitarian crisis.”, declared Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Last month, Italy’s Roman Catholic Church said the new measures violated international law and should be scrapped.

NGOs also complain that the government forces them to take the migrants to far flung ports in northern Italy, far from where the rescues are carried out.

The new obligations have drastically increased the costs of NGOs and in recent months only a few ships have put to sea. But their reduced departures have done nothing to stop the arrival of migrants.

Government data shows that 12,667 people have arrived in Italy so far this yearcompared to 5,273 in the same period of 2022. The missing migrants project affirms that at least 157 people have been reported missing, presumed dead, this year.

According to an internal Interior Ministry document seen by Reuters, of the 105,000 migrants who arrived in Italy in 2022, only around 10% were brought ashore by NGO boats.

With information from Reuters

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