Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Two NGOs refuse to sign Italy's "code of conduct" for migrant rescues

migrant rescues
Two humanitarian groups refused to sign a so-called code of conduct for maritime search-and-rescue NGOs drawn up by the Italian government, and this could have "consequences for the security of their vessels", the Italian Interior Ministry said Monday.

Humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Jugend Rettet, a German youth NGO, did not sign. The Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), Pro Activa Open Arms from Spain, and Save the Children agreed to sign.

Another three NGOs -- Sea Watch, Sea Eye, and SOS Mediterranee -- did not take part in the talks, Italy's interior ministry said in a statement released Monday evening. "Refusing to agree and sign puts those NGOs outside the organized sea rescue system, with all the concrete consequences that might develop, beginning with the security of the vessels themselves," the ministry statement said.

Due to a lack of legal routes into Europe, thousands of men, women and children fleeing war and famine in North Africa and the Middle East pay hefty sums to embark on unseaworthy boats run by human traffickers in a bid to reach Europe.

Most of the vessels leave from Libya, with Italy as the nearest European landfall on the so-called Central Mediterranean route.

Beginning in 2014, the NGOs launched vessels to help save lives in the Mediterranean alongside the European Union's Frontex border patrol mission, in cooperation with the Italian Coast Guard and upon authorization from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC).

However Italy's new code of conduct includes a ban on entering Libyan waters, where most of the migrant shipwrecks occur.

As well, the NGO code of conduct includes an obligation to allow an armed police officer on board. "We can't have weapons on board a humanitarian vessel, just as you can't have them in a hospital," Gabriele Eminente from MSF Italy told RAI public broadcaster after Monday's meeting at the Interior Ministry in Rome.

He praised the "excellent collaboration with the Italian Coast Guard" and the "frank debate with Italian institutions" over the NGO code of conduct, which the Italian government first announced at the beginning of the month.

On July 3, Italy said it had drawn up a plan of action along with France and Germany to curb migrant arrivals, including the NGO code of conduct.

The code has been approved by the European Commission. Last Friday, the Italian cabinet approved an operational mission to support the Libyan Coast Guard in the fight against migrant traffickers in the Mediterranean -- and to prevent the migrant boats from leaving in the first place.

According to the latest running tally by the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration (IOM), 113,433 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through July 26, with almost 85 percent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain.

At least 2,385 died in the attempt, according to IOM. According to its website, MSF has rescued over 69,000 people since 2015. Jugend Rettet reports it has saved 6,526 lives since July 2016, and MOAS says it has saved 33,455 lives since August 2014.

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