UN Issues Warning to Italy Over Ban on Migrant Ships Entering Italian Ports
United Nations voices concerns over leader Matteo Salvini's new anti-mass-migration law
The United Nations has issued a warning to Italy over its tough news laws that block migrant ships from docking in Italian ports.
This week, populist leader Matteo Salvini's government passed new legislation that fines ships carrying migrants up to €1 million (USD $1.12M) if they attempt to dock in Italian ports without permission.
Under the new laws, captains of ships caught breaching the terms will be arrested and their vessels will be impounded.
The move is aimed at stopping the flood of mostly-African migrants from entering Italy after being picked up in the Mediterranean Sea by NGO (non-governmental organization) ships.
The bill was pushed by Interior Minister Salvini and passed with a vote of 160 to 57.
The UN has now warned Italy that humanitarian work “not be criminalized or stigmatized” in response to the new Italian laws.
The text adopted by Italian lawmakers gives Interior Minister Matteo Salvini more authority to block ships carrying rescued migrants from entering Italian waters.
NGO boats involved in search and rescue operations can be confiscated and captains arrested and fined.
“Imposing financial or other penalties on shipmasters could deter or impede sea rescue activities by private vessels at a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean,” the UN refugee agency said in a statement.
“NGOs play an invaluable role in saving the lives of refugees and migrants attempting the dangerous sea crossing to Europe,” UNHCR said.
Rescue NGOs have continued to take to the seas to save lives despite a refusal by European ports to accept migrants.
UNHCR also said rescue boats must not be redirected back to Libya.
The North African nation is a key launching point for migrant vessels headed to Europe, given “the extremely volatile security situation in the country.”
“Widespread reports of human rights violations and routine use of arbitrary detention for people disembarked back to Libya underline the fact that it is not a viable place of safety,” UNHCR said.
The European Union also said it planned to “analyze” the legislation’s consistency with European law.