Rome, July 31 (IANS/AKI) Doctors without Borders on Monday declined to sign the Italian government’s controversial ‘code of conduct’ aimed at curbing the actions of charity rescue ships in the Mediterranean and stemming the numbers of migrants who reach Europe.
Besides Doctors without Borders, German NGO Jugend Reptet refused to sign the code, which was inked on Monday by just two charities – Maltese charity MOAS and Save the Children – at the Interior Ministry in Rome.
Save the Children Italy said it would “constantly check that the code of conduct does not hamper the effectiveness of rescue operations”.
“The absolute priority remains saving human lives at sea.”
The 11 point-code requires armed police on board NGO vessels and a ban on making calls or firing flares and has drawn criticism from rights groups including Amnesty International and the United Nations.
The aim of having an officer on board would be to guarantee security and also to root out human traffickers hiding among migrants, according to Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti, who demanded the code of conduct.
Phone calls made from the NGO vessels flares fired could signal to human traffickers when it is safe to send a boat to sea, he said.
A total 34 percent of rescue operations in the Mediterranean were carried out by NGOs and private rescue teams in the first four months of this year – more than by Italian Coastguard or European border patrol forces, according to Minniti.
NGOs including Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms and Germany’s Sea Watch, earlier refused to sign the code, saying it would endanger more lives in what is the most treacherous sea route in the world for migrants.
Amnesty and Human Rights Watch condemned Italy’s new rules in a joint statement earlier this month, saying the measures would severely restrict the ability of humanitarian and aid groups to carry out their work, putting migrant lives at further risk.
The UN children’s charity UNICEF also deplored the new code of conduct, saying it put many lives at risk, especially those of minors.
Almost 2,380 migrants perished in the Mediterranean this year as of July 26, according to figures issued on Friday by the UN migration agency, International Organisation for Migration.
Over 94,000 migrants have reached Italy from Libya this year – 85 percent of the total crossings – amid claims by Italian prosecutors that NGOs are abetting traffickers transporting refugees and migrants to Europe.