…NGO boats to pay fine, per rescued migrant!***
…As 190 migrants intercepted while sailing from Turkey to Greece***
Italy may have finally decided to make money from the lives of those rescued at sea as it contemplates a decree that would ensure NGO rescue-boats can be fined up to €5,500 (£4,760) for each migrant they disembark on to Italian soil.
If the decree is enacted, refugees fleeing war zones or escaping into Europe may now suddenly discover that it is cheaper to die than to survive the Mediterranean sea; even as the Aid groups may soon learn that it does not pay any longer to do good.
The Aid groups said the planned decree from Matteo Salvini amounted to a direct “declaration of war against the NGOs who are saving lives at sea”.
The far-right interior minister’s decree – which will be proposed to the council of ministers in the next few days and then voted upon by parliament – would allow NGOs to be fined “from €3,500 to €5,500 for each transported foreigner”, according to draft text seen by the Guardian UK.
The new decree reinforces the powers of the ministry of the interior in the matter of immigration and has the objective of putting an end to the NGO rescues.
Médecins Sans Frontières, for example, would have had to pay €440m for saving 80,000 people if the decree had been in place during the last three years.In the most serious cases, the licenses or authorisation to transfer people on board will be suspended for one month to a year.
“The new decree is threatening legal principles and the duty of saving lives,” said Claudia Lodesani, president of MSF Italy. “It is like fining ambulances for carrying patients to the hospital.
“It shows the weakness of a government that is not able to guarantee control through democratic means and rather constantly feels the need to resort to the threat of using law enforcement.”
“The draft text of the security decree misinterprets the navigation code and the very basis of the international law applicable to the search and rescue,” Giorgia Linardi of Sea-Watch said.
“The lives of people are reduced to a fine: a fine that actually goes to punish what is a moral and legal duty and a human act of solidarity.
“The new rules contradict the constitution,” Italian senator Gregorio de Falco, who is also a former coastguard official, told the Huffington Post.
“It means that those who save lives have to pay. But it must be borne in mind that those who do not save people go to jail because we have an obligation to save people in distress.”
Last year, De Falco was expelled by the M5S Movement, which governs in coalition with Salvini’s party, the League, for voting against a previous security bill, the so-called “Salvini decree”, drafted by the interior minister and targeting asylum rights.
The decree left hundreds in legal limbo when its removal of humanitarian protection for those not eligible for refugee status but otherwise unable to return home was applied by several Italian cities soon after its approval by parliament in December 2018.
Salvini has repeatedly declared Italian waters closed to NGO rescue vessels. Several boats have been left stranded at sea because of this hardline approach, which is partly designed to force other parts of Europe to take in more people.
“Instead of criminalising NGOs that rescue migrants, Italy should mourn the victims of the latest tragedy at sea,” says Lodesani.
Last Friday, up to 70 people trying to reach Europe from Libya drowned after their vessel capsized in the deadliest such incident in the Mediterranean since January.
According to survivors, at least 16 of whom were rescued, the boat left Zuwara in Libya, where renewed warfare between rival factions has gripped the capital, Tripoli, in the past five weeks.
The vessel capsized 40 miles (64km) off the coast of Sfax, south of Tunis, as it headed towards Italy.
So far this year, 17,000 people have sought refuge in Europe via the sea, about 30% less than in the same period last year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The IOM said 443 people had reportedly died on Mediterranean crossings since 1 January, compared with 620 in the same period in 2018.
The Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) thinktank said that one person died for every eight people who left Libya between January and April, based on analysis of figures from the Italian interior ministry.
The NGO ship Sea-Watch 3 is currently sailing across the Mediterranean towards Libya.
“They better not think of putting migrants on board,” said Salvini. “We’ll stop them by any means necessary.”
In the meantime, some 190 migrants have been intercepted in the eastern Mediterranean since on Sunday, the Greek coastguard said on Monday.
The migrants, who were trying to sail from Turkey to Greece, included 163 picked up by the coastguard near the islands of Samos and Kos, as well as 26 who were intercepted near the northern Greek port of Alexandroupoli.
According to statistics that the Migration Ministry published, registration centres on Greek islands including Samos and Lesbos are overcrowded.
However, the current inflow is significantly lower than during the peak of arrivals in 2015, when there were some days when 7,000 migrants were departing from the Turkish coast.