Rescues of men and women at sea: NGOs denounce Italy’s “obstructions”

NGOs involved in rescue activities in the Mediterranean asked the Italian authorities on Thursday February 22 to “immediately stop obstructing search and rescue activities”, these “obstructions” decided by Rome generating, according to them, an “increase in the number of deaths

Rescues of men and women at sea: NGOs denounce Italy’s “obstructions”

NGOs involved in rescue activities in the Mediterranean asked the Italian authorities on Thursday February 22 to “immediately stop obstructing search and rescue activities”, these “obstructions” decided by Rome generating, according to them, an “increase in the number of deaths.”

On the front line facing the crossings of migrant boats seeking to reach Europe, Italy adopted a decree at the beginning of 2023 which partly hinders the activities of humanitarian ships. For the past year, they have had to transport rescued people to a designated port from the first operation, which prevents NGOs from multiplying rescue operations.

The assigned disembarkation ports are often very far away, in the north of Italy. These conditions have generated an “increase in the number of deaths in the central Mediterranean”, wrote these organizations, including SOS Méditerranée, Médecins sans frontières (MSF) and Sea-Watch, in a joint statement.

“Leaving people in mortal danger” or “risking the confiscation of our ships”

“In many cases we have to choose between complying with Italian regulations while knowing that we risk leaving behind people in danger of death, or fulfilling our legal duty to rescue and subsequently risking fines, detention and the possible confiscation of our ships,” the signatories lamented.

Since February 2023, Italy has decided sixteen times to detain a ship accused of contravening the new regulations, according to NGOs, who estimated these cumulative detentions at “more than 300 days” of navigation. “This represents hundreds of days spent away from the search and rescue zone during which people’s lives are in danger,” the organizations insisted.

In 2023, 3,129 migrants died or went missing after crossing the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration, which has counted 185 since the start of 2024.