Legal pathways for refugees to Europe: developments and challenges
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Criminalisation of NGOs and cooperation with third countries: Italy forges ahead with its “anti-migrant” policy
Since his appointment as Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini has made several statements and taken action against migrants and refugees, including strengthening the legal arsenal against humanitarian vessels operating in the Mediterranean and their crews.
In line with the first “Salvini Decree-Law” which was adopted in November 2018, new regulations were adopted by the government in March 2019. Two directives, published in March and April, repeatedly urged humanitarian vessels to comply with the Libyan Coast Guard’s instructions – an obligation with which NGOs operating in the Mediterranean refuse to comply, because they do not consider Libya to be a “safe port”.
In the face of the “disobedience” of humanitarian crews, such as the crew of the Mare Jonio, a ship operated by the NGO Mediterranea, two “Decree-Laws” were adopted, further criminalising humanitarian work in the Mediterranean. The first one, from June 15th, strengthened the powers of the Ministry of Interior and Police, and established a fine of up to €50,000 for NGOs that dock in Italian ports and/or refuse to disembark rescued migrants in a Libyan port. After drifting for 16 days with 40 migrants on board, the ship Sea-Watch 3 and its captain Carola Rackete defied the prohibition, which Matteo Salvini took as an “act of war”. The 31-year-old captain theoretically faces up to 15 years in prison for “aiding illegal immigration”. Following this event, a new Decree-Law targeting humanitarian ships was adopted on August 5th. The text increases the maximum amount of the fine for boats entering the Italian waters without authorisation from €50,000 to €1 million. It also allows for ships to be confiscated and their captains to be arrested in case they dock in Italian ports despite a refusal to do so.
Finally, on 8 July, the Italian Ministry of the Interior’s National Committee for Order and Security, endorsed new decisions to strengthen controls on vessels leaving Libya and Tunisia, to mobilise naval and customs vessels to “defend Italian ports” and to establish increased cooperation with Tunisia and Libya. The Italian government’s objective is simple: to block ships before they enter international waters, let alone Italian national waters. The use of military resources to avoid ships docking at all costs illustrates the U-turn that Italy has made: in 2014, these same forces were mobilised for rescue missions as part of Operation Mare Nostrum.
This text compiles various articles originally published in French in “Veilles Europe” by France Terre d’Asile in recent months: see the editions of 1–15 March, 16–31 March, 1–15 May, 1–15 June, 15–30 June, and 1–15 July. It was updated on 7 August 2019.