Charities say new Italian rules will limit rescues at sea

Dec 28, 2022, 10:23 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2022, 12:29 pm
FILE - Migrants with life jackets provided by volunteers of the Ocean Viking, a migrant search and ...

FILE - Migrants with life jackets provided by volunteers of the Ocean Viking, a migrant search and rescue ship run by NGOs SOS Mediterranee and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFCR), still sail in a wooden boat as they are being rescued some 26 nautical miles south of the Italian Lampedusa island in the Mediterranean sea, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. Charities that rescue migrants at sea complained Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, that new measures adopted by Italy government will limit their rescue capacity, risking lives at sea. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez, File)

(AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez, File)

MILAN (AP) — Charities that rescue migrants at sea complained Thursday that new measures adopted by Italy’s right-wing government will limit their rescue capacity, setting lives at risk.

The government this week approved rules requiring rescue ships to request a port immediately after each rescue, and sail immediately to it once assigned without waiting for other rescues.

“With the new rules imposed by the Italian government on NGO boats, we will be forced to leave rescue zones uncovered with the inevitable increase in the number of deaths,” Doctors Without Borders said in a tweet.

The charity Emergency argued that more boats will be pushed back by the Libyan Coast Guard to Libya, where human rights groups say migrants face torture, sexual violence and extortion at the hands of guards in detention centers.

Under the Italian decree, charities not abiding by the rules risk fines of up to 50,000 euros ($53,400) and could have their vessels impounded for repeat offenses.

So far this year, more than 103,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, up 55% over last year, according to the Interior Ministry. Most of those have arrived independently, and not with charity boats, officials have said. Nearly 1,400 people have died or are missing and presumed dead in the deadly central Mediterranean Sea crossing this year, according to the United Nations migration agency’s Missing Migrants Report.

Along with the new measures, Italian officials have been assigning ports further and further north, away from the migrant routes.

The Ocean Viking operated by the European humanitarian group SOS Mediteranee on Thursday said it was heading to Ravenna, in northern Italy, two days after rescuing 113 people from an overcrowded rubber dinghy. They included 23 women, some of them pregnant, three babies as young as 3 weeks old, and 30 unaccompanied minors.

The charity underlined that the port of disembarkation was around 900 nautical miles away from the deadly central Mediterranean route, a four-day journey.

“We fear that countless tragedies … (will) keep occurring without a trace,” SOS Mediteranee said, adding that charity boats operating in the search and rescue areas “only fill the gap of deadly disengagement of EU states in the Mediterranean Sea.”

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Charities say new Italian rules will limit rescues at sea