The United Nations refugee agency responded quickly on Tuesday to a decision made by Italy’s parliament that will impose harsher penalties against those people and organizations involved in migrant search and rescue on the Mediterranean Sea.
The UNHCR said that under the changes, fines for private vessels that rescue migrants despite a ban on bringing them into Italy’s territorial waters will face higher penalties of up to €1 million. The rescue vessels – such as those operated by German NGO Sea Watch – also will now be automatically impounded.
“UNHCR reiterates its concern that 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shipmasters could deter or impede sea rescue activities by private vessels at a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean,” the agency said.
“NGOs play an invaluable role in saving the lives of refugees and migrants attempting the dangerous sea crossing to Europe. The commitment and humanity that motivates their activities should not be criminalized or stigmatized.”
UNHCR again stressed that Libya is not a safe place for migrants, and they should not be sent back there when rescued by a Libyan Coast Guard that has worked closely with Italy in reducing successful Mediterranean crossings.
Italy’s decision defies the progress on solutions for migrants made among European nations during talks last month in Paris, and UNHCR urged all states to build on those discussions.
Image: IOM file