‘More will drown’: Italy accused of breaking international law on migrant rescues

Twenty charities slammed Italy's new rules on rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean on Thursday, saying that they violate international law and are likely to result in more deaths.

MIgrants on rescue boat
Italy's new rules on rescuing migrants have been described as being in violation of international law. Photo by Vincenzo CIRCOSTA / AFP

Under the new decree, which came into effect this week, charity vessels must head “without delay” to the Italian port assigned to them after each rescue, which aid groups say will limit the number of people they can help.

Such vessels often perform multiple rescues of people who get into trouble attempting the world’s most dangerous crossing, before heading back to shore.

READ ALSO: Anger as Italy accused of illegally rejecting migrants rescued at sea

“The Italian decree law contradicts international maritime, human rights and European law,” the aid organisations, including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said in a joint statement.

“The decreased presence of rescue ships will inevitably result in more people tragically drowning at sea,” they added.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s new government has vowed to stop the charity vessels from performing what it calls a “ferry” service from North Africa.

But the order “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” international maritime law, the aid groups said.

The problem was compounded by Rome’s recent move to frequently assign the ships ports which are further from search and rescue areas, they said.

“Both factors are designed to keep SAR (search and rescue) vessels out of the rescue area for prolonged periods and reduce their ability to assist people in distress,” they said.

The decree also states that charities must start gathering information from those rescued about their potential requests for asylum, and share the data with the Italian authorities.

The charities said it was “the duty of states to initiate this process and a private vessel is not an appropriate place for this”.

“Asylum requests should be dealt with on dry land only after disembarkation to a place of safety, and only once immediate needs are covered, as recently clarified by the UN Refugee Agency,” they said.

READ ALSO: Immigration in Italy: What are the real numbers?

Captains of ships which break the new rules face fines of up to 50,000 euros and can have their vessels confiscated.

Parliament has two months to convert the decree into law. It can undergo changes in that time.

The charities urged lawmakers to oppose the decree, and appealed for “a strong reaction” against it from Brussels and other European countries.

EU spokeswoman Anitta Hipper said on Thursday that “no matter” the decree, Italy “must respect the international laws and the law of the sea”.

Meloni’s government took office in October on a strongly anti-migration platform.

Some 105,000 people landed in Italy after making sea crossins, according to the interior ministry. Most of the arrivals were rescued and brought to shore by Italian navy or coastguard vessels, not charity ships.

At least 20,218 people have died or gone missing on the crossing since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents’ rights

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Milan on Saturday in protest against a new government directive stopping local authorities from registering the births of same-sex couples' children.

Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents' rights

“You explain to my son that I’m not his mother,” read one sign held up amid a sea of rainbow flags that filled the northern city’s central Scala Square.

Italy legalised same-sex civil unions in 2016, but opposition from the Catholic Church meant it stopped short of granting gay couples the right to adopt.

Decisions have instead been made on a case-by-case basis by the courts as parents take legal action, although some local authorities decided to act unilaterally.

Milan’s city hall had been recognising children of same-sex couples conceived overseas through surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy, or medically assisted reproduction, which is only available for heterosexual couples.

But its centre-left mayor Beppe Sala revealed earlier this week that this had stopped after the interior ministry sent a letter insisting that the courts must decide.

READ ALSO: Milan stops recognising children born to same-sex couples

“It is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view, and I put myself in the shoes of those parents who thought they could count on this possibility in Milan,” he said in a podcast, vowing to fight the change.

Milan's mayor Giuseppe Sala

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala has assured residents that he will fight to have the new government directive overturned. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Fabrizio Marrazzo of the Gay Party said about 20 children are waiting to be registered in Milan, condemning the change as “unjust and discriminatory”.

A mother or father who is not legally recognised as their child’s parent can face huge bureaucratic problems, with the risk of losing the child if the registered parent dies or the couple’s relationship breaks down.

Elly Schlein, newly elected leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, was among opposition politicians who attended the protest on Saturday, where many campaigners railed against the new government.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party came top in the September elections, puts a strong emphasis on traditional family values.

“Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby!” she said in a speech last year before her election at the head of a right-wing coalition that includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee voted against an EU plan to oblige member states to recognise the rights of same-sex parents granted elsewhere in the bloc.