Italy detains three boats – for the crime of saving hundreds of refugees’ lives

A refugee rescue boat off the coast of Italy
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In the space of 48 hours, Italy’s authorities detained three refugee rescue vessels which had just saved hundreds of lives. The news comes as Italy’s far-right government has been cracking down on both refugees and those protecting them – amid over 2,000 people dying in the crossing.

Italy: detaining refugee rescue vessels

The Spanish Open Arms charity said Italian authorities fined it €10,000 and seized its eponymous ship on Tuesday 22 August. This was after it ignored border authorities instructions not to carry out two rescues to save 170 people stranded in the Mediterranean.

Then, charity German Sea-Eye said authorities fined it around €3,000 and detained its SEA-EYE 4 ship after it performed three consecutive rescue operations which it said saved 114 lives. Plus, on Monday 21 August Germany’s Sea-Watch charity saw its ship the Aurora detained for disembarking refugees it had saved in a non-designated port.

Italian authorities are able to do this because of a law Italy’s far-right prime minister Giorgia Meloni brought in.

Far-right lawmakers punishing refugees and charities

As Al Jazeera reported:

The law passed in Italy on February 24 prevents rescue ships from carrying out several consecutive rescues. Under a decree named after the interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, rescue vessels are required to request the assignment of a port and sail to it immediately after each rescue.

NGOs say the measure aims to curb arrivals, as they are forbidden from conducting multiple missions and are often required to travel to faraway ports, which increases operational costs and reduces the time for rescues.

Read on...

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They also maintain that the law contravenes international law, under which it is a duty to rescue persons in distress at sea.

This is not the first time Italian authorities have used the law. As the Canary previously reported, in July authorities detained aid group SOS Mediterranee’s vessel:

After disembarking 57 people rescued off the Libyan coast on 7 July, Ocean Viking was subject to a seven-hour inspection by port authorities on 11 July.

At the time, authorities then held the group’s vessel “for an indefinite period” in port. Then, as the Canary also reported, just after the new law passed authorities detained a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) vessel.

All of this is symptomatic of the wider treatment of refugees across the EU.

Europe’s racist hostile environment

The Italian government says that more than 105,000 refugees have landed in Italy so far this year. This is more than double the number in the same period last year. Across Europe, the UN says that more than 2,000 people have also died attempting the central Mediterranean crossing since the start of the year.

As the Canary‘s Eliza Egret previously wrote:

rather than rescuing people escaping from Libya, European countries dehumanise them. They do all they can to prevent civil society organisations such as Sea-Watch from rescuing them. The EU would rather see people drown than allow people to reach Italy. Deadly pushbacks are used where authorities force refugees back into non-European waters, rather than rescue them. These are far too common, even though they’re illegal under international law. Groups like Channel Rescue say that EU pushback policies have caused thousands of deaths.

Italy’s latest legal crackdown against refugees and the people supporting them is another step in Europe’s systematically hostile and racist attitude toward Black and Brown people fleeing from war, poverty, and hunger.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Feature image via NBC News – YouTube

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