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  • The controversial bill was denounced as a “declaration of war against the NGOs who are saving lives at sea.”

    The controversial bill was denounced as a “declaration of war against the NGOs who are saving lives at sea.” | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 June 2019

NGO’s could be fined up to €50,000 and have their vessles impounded permanently for assisting drowning migrants.

Conducting rescue missions along the central Mediterranean may cost Italian non-governmental organizations (NGO) €50,000 (US$ 56,190) in fines, according to new security policies passed by Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, Friday.

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The controversial bill was denounced by international organizations and aid groups alike as a “declaration of war against the NGOs who are saving lives at sea.”

Nevertheless, on Friday night, Mattarella signed the law into action. Proposed by rightwing League Party leader an interior minister, Matteo Salvini, the bill warns NGO’s could be fined between  €10,000 and €50,000 ($11,327 – $56,638) and have their vessles permanently impounded if docked withou authorization for transporting distressed migrants to Italian ports.

Earlier this week, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, urged Italian government officials to reconsider the legislation, “revise the decree and… to amend it, putting the protection of refugees and the saving of human lives at the center” as it would “penalize rescues at sea.

Claudia Lodesani, president of the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Italy, said, “The new decree is threatening legal principles and the duty of saving lives. It is like fining ambulances for carrying patients to the hospital.”

However, according to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, that’s the point. The policy is meant to discourage undocumented migrants from entering the country.

“We want certain behaviour to be a bit more transparent on the part of the NGOs too, I don’t want to lay it on but we are asking for greater transparency,’’ said the prime minister.

Approximately 1,940 migrants travelled from North Africa to Italy since January, while nearly 350 died en route, UNHCR reports and others from the International Organization for Migration, noting that the death rate stands at 15 percent.

Roland Schilling, Southern Europe's UNHCR Regional Representative, said, “At a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean, NGO vessels are more crucial than ever ... Without them, it is inevitable that more lives will be lost.”

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