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UNHCR urges Italy to reconsider proposed decree affecting rescue at sea in the Central Mediterranean

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UNHCR urges Italy to reconsider proposed decree affecting rescue at sea in the Central Mediterranean

12 June 2019
Italy. Sea Watch boat rescue off Lampedusa coast
German NGO Sea Watch rescues refugees and migrants off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, May 2019.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is concerned at a recent decree from the Government of Italy that contains several provisions affecting refugees and migrants, including fines for NGO vessels engaged in saving lives at sea.

Sea rescue is a long-standing humanitarian imperative. It is also an obligation under international law. No vessel or shipmaster should be at risk of a fine for coming to the aid of boats in distress and where loss of life may be imminent.

“At a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean, NGO vessels are more crucial than ever,” said Roland Schilling, UNHCR Regional Representative to Southern Europe ad interim. “Without them, it is inevitable that more lives will be lost.”

Of further concern to UNHCR is that the decree may result in shipmasters being penalized for refusing to disembark rescued people in Libya. In light of the extremely volatile security situation, widespread reports of human rights violations and routine use of detention for people rescued or intercepted at sea, no one should be returned to Libya.

UNHCR has stated repeatedly its view that robust search and rescue capacity, particularly in the Central Mediterranean, needs to be coupled with a regional mechanism allowing quick, predictable and safe disembarkation. Responsibility for rescued refugees and migrants needs to be shared among States, not left to one or two.

UNHCR is calling on the Italian Government to reconsider the decree and for Parliament to amend it with a focus on refugee protection and saving lives at its core.


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