Rescuers publish joint letter condemning a new decree aimed at disrupting Mediterranean refugee rescue missions
ITALY’S far-right government has made one of the world’s deadliest migration routes “even more dangerous” after issuing a decree this week that disrupts the way civilian search-and-rescue (SAR) ships operate in the Mediterranean Sea, rescuers said today.
One of the new rules imposed by Italy‘s far-right government requires NGO ships to head straight to an Italian port after each rescue operation.
NGO rescuers will be forced to ignore open distress cases and break international laws that govern rescue operations at sea — such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.
It will also prevent rescuers from carrying out multiple rescues while at sea, which they have done since 2019 following the EU’s removal of all its rescue assets from the central Mediterranean.
The edict also requires captains to initiate asylum procedures on board their ships — a role carried out by government officials.
Failure to comply with the new decree could land rescuers with a fine up to €50,000 (£44,261 / US $52,627).
Though the decree ostensibly targets SAR NGOs, “the real price will be paid by people fleeing across the central Mediterranean and finding themselves in situations of distress,” 20 refugee rescue and support organisations said in an open letter published today.
“Instructing SAR NGOs to proceed immediately to a port, while other people are in distress at sea, contradicts the captain’s obligation to render immediate assistance to people in distress, as enshrined in the UNCLOS,” the letter says.
“This element of the decree is compounded by the Italian government’s recent policy to assign ‘distant ports’ more frequently, which can be up to four days of navigation from ships’ current location.
“Both factors are designed to keep SAR vessels out of the rescue area for prolonged periods and reduce their ability to assist people in distress.
“We … urge the Italian government to immediately withdraw its newly issued law decree. We also call on all members of the Italian Parliament to oppose the decree, thereby preventing it from being converted into law.
“What we need is not another politically motivated framework obstructing lifesaving SAR activities, but for EU Member States to finally comply with existing international and maritime laws as well as guarantee the operational space for civil SAR actors.”
The signatories — which include Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Sea-Watch, SOS Humanity, Open Arms, Alarm Phone, Iuventa, Mare Liberum, and others — also call on the European Commission, the European Parliament, EU member states and institutions to oppose the new decree.