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Italy promotes a hardline immigration policy with the memory of the 2015 refugee crisis still in mind

NGOs denounce obstacles to rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

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Italy promotes a hardline immigration policy with the memory of the 2015 refugee crisis still in mind

NGOs denounce obstacles to rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean


The Government of the Prime Minister of Italy, the far-right Giorgia Meloni, has undertaken, with the memory still present of the refugee crisis that Europe experienced in 2015, a hard-line policy to stop the arrival of migrants to the Italian coasts, limiting the work of NGOs in the Mediterranean in the midst of the collapse of reception centers.

The 'Cutro' decree, approved in May by the Italian Parliament, obliges boats to go to a port assigned by the authorities after carrying out a rescue, ignoring the most immediate needs of migrants, who have suffered on their entire way to Europe. sort of abuse and hardship.

The program director of Doctors Without Borders of Italy (MSF), Marco Bertotto, has assured in statements to Europa Press that this immigration framework of the Italian authorities, which he has called "shameful" and "illegal", seeks to "hinder" and impose a "boycott" on humanitarian work in Mediterranean waters.

If they do not go to the assigned port, NGOs face heavy fines and administrative detention of up to 20 days. In March, MSF filed an appeal with the court of the Italian city of Ancona against the detention of its rescue ship 'Geo Barents', which was seized in February, although this was unsuccessful.

Bertotto explains that appeals against blockades are "useless." The ships are thus forced to remain docked and cannot go to the operating areas if they receive emergency calls due to strict security control carried out by the port authorities.

Like MSF, SOS Mediterranée questions the ten-day detention imposed on the 'Ocean Viking' on July 11 in the Italian city of Civitavecchia, since in one of the last inspections the authorities confirmed that the ship complied with the Convention International for the Safety of Human Life at Sea.

"The confirmation that the ship complied with all regulations from the beginning means that there may have been no objective reason for the ten-day detention to which the 'Ocean Viking' was subjected," says the NGO's communications coordinator, Lucille Guenier, to Europa Press.

SOS Mediterranée denounces that they are "under an extraordinary level of scrutiny" and that they have faced "questionable interpretations" of existing standards and norms, like other NGOs working in the Mediterranean.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 159,000 migrants from countries such as Guinea, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Tunisia have arrived in Europe by sea in 2023 and more than 2,700 have died in the attempt.

At a time when the increase in migrants from Tunisia has put in check the capacity of the European Union (EU) to deal with the migratory flow, the 27 have signed an agreement with the Government of Kais Saied to cooperate on migration matters in exchange for help to alleviate the economic crisis in the African country.

The agreement, which contemplates 255 million euros in 2023 to stop irregular migration, includes measures to strengthen border controls and toughen the fight against human trafficking, as well as initiatives to attract investment to Tunisia.

The controversial pact has forced the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, to defend this week before the European Parliament the decision taken by the EU, especially in the wake of accusations against the Tunisian Government for its campaign of xenophobic violence against sub-Saharans and for the abandonment of dozens of migrants in remote areas of the desert on the border.

In fact, the EU Ombudsman has asked the European Commission if it carried out an assessment of the impact on Human Rights before signing the pact and has questioned Brussels about whether it has mechanisms in place to cancel it for these reasons, given the case.

The community bloc has thus continued on the path that it already began in 2017, when it signed a memorandum of understanding with Libya, which until a few years ago was the main exit port ahead of Tunisia, a country that in recent months has ousted its neighbor in the number of irregular departures to the Mediterranean.

This memorandum left control of maritime rescue operations in the hands of the Libyan Coast Guard. As a result, many migrants end up being illegally returned to detention centers in Libya, where they suffer all types of abuse, from arrests and torture to sexual violence.

In this sense, MSF assures that there is a security approach to migration instead of a humanitarian one and points to the war in Ukraine as an example that it is possible to implement a mechanism that guarantees "certain rights and obligations" under the Human rights.

"Saving lives is an obligation and this cannot be discussed," says Bertotto, adding that the EU's attitude is "selfish" for looking only at the numbers - when it only receives a small percentage of all global migration - and that there is a racial component in their policies.

According to MSF data, since the beginning of 2023 more than 3,100 people have been rescued by the staff of the maritime rescue ship 'Geo Barents', one of those operated by the NGO, bringing the total number of migrants rescued to around 8,900 since 2021.

Also this week the German Government has suspended a voluntary mechanism for hosting refugees from Italy. Berlin argues that Rome is breaching its obligations under the Dublin Convention by not accepting the repatriation of migrants from German territory.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue at EU Council level for a new Migration and Asylum Pact with the aim of replacing the Dublin regulation, first adopted in the 1990s and reformed twice.

The immigration issue has given rise to disagreements not only at the community level, but also in the Italian right-wing coalition. Meloni has decided to promote the activities of the interministerial Security committee, thus removing the leader of the League and Minister of Infrastructure, Matteo Salvini, whose portfolio is not part of the mechanism.

The decision has not been well received by Salvini - architect of the hard line against illegal migration - who sees in this measure a loss of influence and an excessive centralization of power in the hands of the Undersecretary of State, Alfredo Mantovano.

Following the 'Cutro' decree, the Italian Minister of the Interior, Matteo Piantedosi, is promoting a law that aims to increase the presence of police forces and strengthen the repatriation system, with special emphasis on migrants who have criminal records.

One of the provisions of the decree will modify the so-called 'Zampa Law', which regulates the reception of unaccompanied foreign minors. With this strategy, the authorities seek to tighten the procedures for determining the age of migrants and alleviate the burden on local administrations.

Although this bill has not been approved, the Italian Government distributed a circular at the beginning of August in which it requires the prefectures to immediately cease reception measures for those holders of international reception.

The authorities argue that it is necessary, given the collapse of the system, to accommodate asylum seekers who have arrived more recently. This has produced saturation in the reception facilities, leaving these days images of thousands of migrants waiting in the centers on the island of Lampedusa.