Tough Italian law penalising migrant rescue vessels concerns UNHCR

Italy has imposed fines of up to €1 million on private vessels that rescue people and defy orders not to enter into territorial waters

Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete was arrested and later released by the Italian authorities in June after she defied orders not to enter into territorial waters with dozens of rescued migrants on board
Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete was arrested and later released by the Italian authorities in June after she defied orders not to enter into territorial waters with dozens of rescued migrants on board

The UNHCR is concerned over Italy’s new law imposing hefty fines on private vessels that rescue people and ignore the ban on entry into territorial waters.

The law approved last night by the Italian parliament, converted a previous security decree into legislation. It imposes fines of up to €1 million and the automatic confiscation of the vessel.

Charlie Yaxley, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, said the imposition of penalties on shipmasters could deter or impede sea rescue activities by private vessels at a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean.

“NGOs play an invaluable role in saving the lives of refugees and migrants attempting the dangerous sea crossing to Europe. The commitment and humanity that motivates their activities should not be criminalised or stigmatised,” Yaxley said.

Italy’s hard line government has embarked on a ‘war’ with rescue NGOs, preventing their ships from entering territorial waters to disembark rescued migrants.

Carola Rackete, the German captain of rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, was arrested in June by the Italian authorities and the ship impounded after she defied orders and sailed into Lampedusa after spending days at sea with dozens of rescued African migrants.
She was later released by an Italian judge but the government has now upped the ante by getting legislation passed through parliament. The decision has caused concern.

NGOs have refused to take rescued migrants back to Libya, which is deemed to be unsafe as a result of the deteriorating security situation.

Yaxley said NGO and commercial vessels must not be requested to transfer rescued people to the Libyan Coast Guard, or directed to disembark them in Libya.

“The extremely volatile security situation, ongoing conflict, widespread reports of human rights violations and routine use of arbitrary detention for people disembarked back to Libya underline the fact that it is not a viable place of safety,” Yaxley said.

The UNHCR called on States to build on recent discussions in Paris to establish a temporary, predictable arrangement for disembarking people after they have been rescued at sea. The agency called for shared responsibility amongst States for hosting and responding to specific needs.

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