Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

EU backs Italy on NGO rescues

The European Commission has voiced sympathy for Italy’s plan to restrict NGO rescues in the Central Mediterranean.

Natasha Bertaud, a Commission spokeswoman, told press in Brussels on Friday (14 July) that EU and Italian officials had held “technical discussions” on a code of conduct for the NGOs the day before.

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  • Former Italian leader Matteo Renzi said "not normal" for Poland or others to take money but not migrants (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

She said the EU and Italy merely wanted to “better organise” rescues.

“More people are dying even though we have more boats than ever [in the region] doing search and rescue, so something isn’t normal,” she said.

She said nobody wanted the NGOs to stop and praised their “noble” work.

She added that “the idea” of Italy’s draft code was that NGO and other foreign vessels would only be able to dock at Italian courts if they signed up.

She also said the draft code would ensure that Italian officers were on board each boat, but urged media not to “dissect” details of it before it had been agreed.

Other elements of the draft code, leaked earlier this week, said NGOs should not enter Libya’s territorial waters.

This meant that the Libyan coastguard would take back people rescued there instead of NGOs taking them to Italy.

Defend Europe, a group of young far-right activists from France, Germany, Italy, and Austria has also bought a boat for vigilante patrols in the area.

It said the vessel, which is en route from Djibouti to Libya, would intercept migrant boats and alert the Libyan coast guard.

The Commission’s Bertaud said the law of the sea, which stipulated that one must rescue mariners in distress, would apply to the far-right boat, as well as to other NGOs and to EU naval and civilian operations, Sophia and Triton, in the area.

The discussion came as more than 4,400 people rescued this week by the Italian authorities began to arrive on shore in the ports of Brindisi, Catania, Crotone, and Salerno on Friday.

The Italian interior ministry said 86,123 had arrived this year as of 13 July, a 10 percent increase on the same period last year.

The EU and the UN have appealed for greater solidarity with Italy.

But central European states, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have failed to implement an EU accord to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece over the past two year.

France and Germany are also tens of thousands of relocations behind their EU quotas.

Italy is to hold an election no later than in May next year, with the anti-immigrant and anti-euro Five Star Movement party neck-and-neck with mainstream parties in the latest polls.

Speaking to Rai News, an Italian broadcaster, on Friday, Italy’s former centre-left leader, Matteo Renz,i said countries like Poland ought to show more solidarity.

“Do you think it’s normal for some member states to promise to receive migrants and then not take anyone? But when it comes to asking Italy for money for the European budget, they are in the front row asking for our contribution to be sent quickly,” he said.

He added that it was “common sense” to help immigrants in their country of origin instead of in Europe.

Italy to impose tough rules on NGOs

Italian authorities will release a code of conduct for NGOs, which prevents them, among other things, from entering Libyan territorial waters. A draft copy of the code says NGOs will be banned from Italian ports on failure to comply.

Italy imposing new rules on NGO sea rescues

Italy is set to unveil a "code of conduct" for NGOs, while interior ministers from all 28 EU states meet later this week to discuss rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Austria readies for migrant border surge

Foreign ministers in Brussels agreed to toughen up measures against Libyan migrant smugglers amid Austrian claims it is ready to "protect" its borders from any sudden mass migrant movements from Italy.

NGOs divided by Italy's new rescue code

Five charities have refused to sign up to Italy's EU-backed code of conduct for NGOs that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean sea, saying the new rules put lives at risk.

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