Italy bars more NGO rescue ships from its ports

Recently appointed Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini has barred two Netherlands-flagged migrant rescue vessels, the Lifeline and the Seefuchs, from Italian ports. Salvini, leader of coalition partners the League and deputy prime minister in the new Italian administration, said that he would continue to block foreign humanitarian boats from Italian ports, arguing that Italy has been loaded with an unfair share of Europe’s migrant situation from Africa and the Middle East. Salvini said on Facebook that the Lifeline and the Seefuchs were off the coast of Libya waiting to pick up migrants who had been abandoned by human traffickers. “They should know that Italy no longer wants to be an accomplice in the business of illegal immigration and therefore they will have to aim for other, non-Italian, ports,” Salvini said.

Italy claims that humanitarian NGOs are being exploited by human traffickers, which the NGOs deny. Rome says only migrants rescued by Italian ships can be brought to Italian ports.

One of the NGOs, Mission Lifeline, effectively called Salvini a fascist. Salvini replied that “insults and threats will not stop us”.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said that the rescue missions were violating codes of conduct because they did not have adequate resources to help the migrants they rescue. The Aquarius, which rescued 629 migrants, had a capacity of 500.

Mission Lifeline said in response that they were fully compliant with codes of conduct. The Dutch mission in Brussels said that neither Lifeline nor Seefuchs were on the Netherlands’ official register, noting that “it does once again make poignantly clear this is an EU problem asking for an EU solution”. Lifeline told Reuters that it was sailing under a Dutch flag but that it was not on the official Dutch register because it was a smaller ship.