Rome, Aug 11 (IANS/AKI) International charity Sos Mediterranee on Friday inked the Italian government’s code of conduct for migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, the Italian Interior Ministry announced on Friday.
The Italo-French-German NGO’s signature brings to five the number of charities that have signed the controversial code, meaning the majority have now agreed to the new rules, which ban transfer of migrants from one vessel to another, require armed police on board NGO vessels, prohibit phonecalls and firing flares, and forbid the ships from sailing into Libyan waters unless lives are at risk.
Interior Minister Marco Minniti has said that the NGOs who have not signed the code of conduct are excluded from official rescue operations in the Mediterranean and may not bring migrants to Italian ports.
The code has been criticised by NGOs, rights groups and the United Nations who say it risks further endangering lives in the Mediterranean – the world’s deadiest waterway – where over 2,400 people have perished this year alone.
“There are aspects of the code we cannot accept, especially armed police aboard our vessels,” Sandra Hammay from Seawatch, a German NGO that has not signed the code, told Adnkronos on Friday.
“Signing the code in its present form doesn’t help anyone,” Hammay said. “We need to find a compromise,” she stated.
Leading charity Doctors without Borders (MSF), another non-signatory to the code, also rejects armed police on its ships and the requirement for NGOs to disembark migrants at ports rather than transferring them to other ships – a rule which it says will have fatal consequences.
It however praised Italy’s “laudable” efforts to save lives at sea in the face of “an insufficient response” from other European Union countries, urging them to be more “proactive” in the Mediterranean.
The code has caused rifts Italy’s centre-left government with Minniti shunning a cabinet meeting earlier this week, prompting Italian President Sergio Mattarella to step in and defend “the value of the code of conduct” for NGOs.
Transport Minister Graziano Delrio, who is in charge of the Italian coastguard, told national daily newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday that Italy has an obligation under international maritime law to save lives at sea.
“If an NGO vessel is located near people who need rescuing then I cannot exclude it. Even if it has not signed the code of conduct, I have to use it to save human lives,” said Delrio, who is a doctor.