Italian authorities impound charity rescue boat for 'facilitating illegal immigration'
ITALIAN authorities have this afternoon impounded a rescue boat run by a German charity on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration, according to police.
2 August, 2017
Rome has begun imposing a controversial code of conduct for NGOs operating in the Mediterranean which is designed to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving at its shores.
Several aid organisations have refused to abide by the rules, drawn up by the Italian government, saying that to do so would restrict their ability to save lives.
Italy insists that the code of conduct is required because of allegations that NGOs have been operating as an effective taxi service for people smugglers, even to the point of coordinating rescues with them.
All aid organisations operating in the area strongly deny the accusations, but they have had significant cut-through in domestic politics and fuelled calls for action at the very highest level.
The European Union wanted Italy to draw up the code of conduct alongside eurocrats and representatives from the NGOs, but with the migration crisis worsening Rome has felt compelled to act.
Earlier today Italian coastguard intercepted a rescue ship called the Iuventa, run by the German charity Jugend Rettet, off the island of Lampedusa which is the arrival point for most migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.
The organisation initially insisted that the vessel had not been impounded and that the crew had not been arrested, but said it had no further information on its status. The charity later said the ship was searched and is now being taken to Sicily, though insisted nobody on board had been charged.
And a police spokesman later confirmed that the boat had been indeed since been impounded by the authorities “on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration”.
In a statement officers said: "Enquiries begun in October 2016, and conducted with the use of sophisticated techniques and investigative technology, have produced circumstantial evidence of the motorboat Iuventa being used for activities facilitating illegal immigration.”
The move is likely to further inflame tensions between the Italian authorities and NGOs from across Europe and the world operating in the Mediterranean, who feel they are being persecuted for saving lives.
Just three of the nine aid organisations running search and rescue missions in the sea have accepted the Government’s new rules, which they say constitute an unacceptable intrusion into their work.
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.
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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 Italian Interior Ministry said 11,193 people had been registered at Italian ports in July, compared with 23,552 in July 2016. Around 100,000 have arrived in the first seven months of this year.
EU officials have said the vast majority of those entering Italy have no legal case for asylum. French president Emmanuel Macron has put the proportion at more than 80 per cent, whilst the UNHCR say it is seven in 10.