NGOs worry over proposed rules
ROME — Humanitarian organizations that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean are voicing concern over proposed rules to govern their operations that Italy has drafted amid accusations that some agencies are complicit with the Libyanbased traffickers.
Rescue boats could be refused port in Italy if they don’t sign onto the proposed code of conduct, which the Italian government is to present to the nongovernmental organizations in the coming days.
Michele Trainiti, search and rescue co-ordinator of Doctors Without Borders, said on Friday that the draft rules seem to violate the aid groups’ independence and neutrality and could hamper their ability to rescue migrants.
“The fact that some ships may be barred from disembarking in Italian ports worries us very much, because there are no clear alternative ports,” Trainiti said. As an example he pointed to one recent rescue involving a newborn who was still attached to his mother via the umbilical cord.
“Imagine if this baby had to travel some three or four days more to reach another country.”
Under the proposed rules, boats would be barred from entering Libyan waters to rescue migrants, except in cases of imminent emergency. NGOs would have to let police investigating traffickers board their rescue vessels, and declare the sources of their financing. They would be barred from communicating by phone with smugglers or using light signals to indicate their locations.
Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said there were already existing guidelines governing sea rescues that she hoped could help inform the discussions between Italy and the NGOs in drafting a final set of rules.
“We hope that any code serves to improve co-ordination, and in no way reduces the capacity of rescues, because the capacity must be increased,” she said.
European Union countries have backed Italy in drawing up the code of conduct as part of efforts to stem the flow of migrants leaving Libya bound for Europe. Italy is struggling under the influx of some 85,000 people in the first six months of the year, a 20 per cent increase over last year.
Above: People gather at a beach in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada in 2010. Two Ukrainians were killed Friday and four others were wounded when an assailant stabbed them at the resort.
Migrants wait to disembark from a Doctors Without Borders ship after being rescued at sea, at the harbour in Salerno, Italy, on Friday.