News   /   EU   /   More

Italy under fire for handling migrant crisis, rising sea deaths

Migrants swim next to their overturned wooden boat during a rescue operation by Spanish NGO Open Arms at south of Italy’s Lampedusa island at the Mediterranean Sea, August, 11, 2022. (File photo by AP)

Italy is under fire for hindering the crucial sea rescue operations and the worsening migrant fatalities due to the strict immigration laws implemented in 2023.

A consortium of charitable organizations have linked the rise in the death of migrants since last year to a migration decree by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni issued in January 2023. The law imposed limitations over the operations of sea rescue organizations.

“In light of the increasing death toll in the Central Mediterranean since early 2023, coinciding with the adoption of a new law by Italian authorities and the systematic assignment of distant ports to humanitarian rescue ships, we call on the Italian government to bring an immediate halt to the obstruction of our life-saving activities at sea,” the groups said in a joint statement.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) says more than 2,600 migrants have died or went missing in the Central Mediterranean since February 2023, compared to just less than 1,600 during the February 2022-2023 period.

Groups running rescue ships in the Central Mediterranean, including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Open Arms and Mediterranea Saving Humans, were among the 22 signatories of Thursday’s statement.

Meloni’s right-wing government came to power late October 2022. The administration introduced new regulations for migrant rescue ships in January 2023. Activists say it intentionally makes their job much harder and puts the migrants’ lives at risk.

The Italian decree also mandates that humanitarian vessels must promptly head to port following a rescue operation, instead of remaining at sea to search for other distressed migrants.

“In many cases, we must choose between complying with the Italian regulation while knowing we might leave behind people at risk of drowning, or fulfilling our legal duty to carry out rescues, and subsequently facing fines, detention and the possible confiscation of our ships,” the NGOs said.

The NGOs failing to adhere to the recent law in Italy may be subject to a penalty of up to $10,850 and the temporary confiscation of their vessel.

Italy and other European countries have taken strict measures on immigration in recent years, which has also boosted the popularity of right-wing parties who advocate for a Europe free of asylum seekers especially from Africa and West Asia.

According to a report from the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, the groups and people assisting asylum seekers across Europe have reported threats including being held at gunpoint and having their phone communications monitored by government authorities.

Dunja Mijatović, a Bosnian activist, has warned of increasing harassment and in some cases criminalization of people and groups who assist refugees, especially in Hungary, Greece, Lithuania, Italy, Croatia and Poland.

“Organizations and people assisting refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants have been subjected to beatings, had their vehicles or equipment destroyed, or have been targeted by vandalism of their property, and even by arson or bomb attacks,” Mijatović wrote.

“Repression and intimidation of human rights defenders assisting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Europe must end,” she said in a post on a social media platform on Thursday.

On Thursday, a viral video on social media also showed groups of migrant men stripped of their clothing in near-freezing temperatures and being forced back from Serbia into North Macedonia.

The influx of migrants reaching Italy via sea surged to over 157,000 in 2023, up from approximately 105,000 in 2022. But the rate of arrivals has decelerated in the recent months. Many individuals undertaking this voyage often travel in overcrowded and unsafe boats.

Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses:

Press TV News Roku