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Italy adopts decree setting hefty fine of €50,000 for refugee rescue

This photo taken on June 23, 2018 in the Mediterranean Sea between Lampedusa and Tunisia shows Aquarius rescue vessel, chartered by French NGO SOS-Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), during a rescue drill at open sea. (Photo by AFP)

Italy has adapted a new bill that will fine groups and people who save refugees shipwrecked and stranded in the sea.

The controversial bill, signed by the president, sets fines of up to €50,000 for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that bring refugees to Italy without obtaining permission from Rome.

Humanitarian groups described the new bill as a “declaration of war against the NGOs who are saving lives at sea.”

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

The debilitating bill had been drafted by Italy’s hardliner Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini, a notorious far-right politician, is a firm advocate of stiff anti-refugee measures not only in Italy, but also across the whole European continent.

Italian hardliner Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (R) raises a clenched fist during a rally of European nationalists in Milan on May 18, 2019. Geert Wilders, a notorious far-right Dutch politician, is also seen on stage at the rally. (Photo by AFP)

Since taking office a year ago, Salvini has taken a tough stance on refugees and humanitarian groups that rescue and aid refugees shipwrecked and stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.

Rights groups have criticized Salvini’s anti-refugee efforts, warning that his attempts pose a potential threat to the lives and rights of refugees fleeing from war and persecution and seeking asylum elsewhere.

Salvini, who is the leader of Italy's far-right Northern League party, had previously called on other far-right parties across Europe to form an alliance of like-minded groups to “defend their borders” against an influx of refugees into the continent.

United Nations figures show that at least 500 people have died in 2018 as they were trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Some 2,853 also lost their lives in 2017.

More than 600,000 refugees in the past five years have reached Italy by risking their lives in the sea. Some 500,000 of them are still staying in the country.

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