Italy en­forces NGO boat crackdown as mi­grant flux slows

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Italy yes­ter­day be­gan en­forc­ing a con­tro­ver­sial code of con­duct for char­ity boats res­cu­ing mi­grants in the Mediter­ranean as new fig­ures re­vealed a sharp drop in the num­bers of peo­ple ar­riv­ing from Libya.

A boat op­er­ated by Ger­many’s Ju­gend Ret­tet, one of sev­eral NGO’s which have re­fused to sign the code, was in­ter­cepted off Lampe­dusa and es­corted to the out­ly­ing Ital­ian is­land for “rou­tine checks”, a coast­guard spokesman said.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion said its boat, the Iu­venta, had not been im­pounded and the crew had not been ar­rested, but could not im­me­di­ately pro­vide fur­ther de­tails of the coast­guard oper­a­tion. Only three of the nine NGO’s op­er­at­ing searc­hand-res­cue ac­tiv­i­ties in wa­ters off Libya have ac­cepted the new rules, which Ital­ian au­thor­i­ties say are nec­es­sary to en­sure the boats are not ef­fec­tively en­cour­ag­ing mi­grants to em­bark on the per­ilous cross­ing.

The NGOs have par­tic­u­larly ob­jected to a re­quire­ment to al­low an Ital­ian po­lice of­fi­cial to travel on each boat and a ban on mov­ing res­cued mi­grants from one aid ves­sel to an­other while still at sea, which they say could re­sult in avoid­able deaths. Some 600,000 mostly African mi­grants have ar­rived in Italy from Libya since the start of 2014, putting the coun­try’s re­cep­tion fa­cil­i­ties un­der strain and the cen­tre-left gov­ern­ment un­der pres­sure over the cri­sis. For most of this year the num­bers of new ar­rivals have pointed to 2017 break­ing all pre­vi­ous records.

But July, nor­mally a busy month, saw the trend re­versed, sug­gest­ing var­i­ous ef­forts to close down the Libya-Italy route to Europe could be hav­ing an im­pact. The In­te­rior Min­istry said 11,193 peo­ple had been reg­is­tered at Ital­ian ports in July, com­pared with 23,552 in July 2016. Ar­rivals for the first seven months of this year were 95,214, up 0.78 per­cent on the same pe­riod last year.

Italy has been work­ing with the Libyan au­thor­i­ties to strengthen the north African state’s coast­guard with train­ing and new equip­ment in the hope of mak­ing it more ef­fec­tive in polic­ing traf­fick­ers and in­ter­cept­ing mi­grant boats be­fore they reach in­ter­na­tional wa­ters. The Ital­ian par­lia­ment was yes­ter­day dis­cussing fur­ther sup­port for Libya in the form of a naval mis­sion com­prised of a lo­gis­tics ship and pa­trol boat ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing Libyan coast­guard ac­tiv­i­ties.

Of­fi­cials be­lieve boats be­ing sent back to Libyan ports will have a pow­er­ful de­ter­rent ef­fect on would-be mi­grants con­sid­er­ing pay­ing traf­fick­ers for pas­sage to Europe.

But the ap­proach has been crit­i­cised by in­ter­na­tional rights groups who say peo­ple re­turned to trou­bled Libya face de­ten­tion in squalid camps and abuse at the hands of traf­fick­ers.—AFP

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