Non-governmental organizations have been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean for years. Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta are now demanding a new rule.
Four southern EU-Mediterranean states complained in a joint letter about Europe’s handling of the migrant crisis and hinted at cracking down on private sea rescuers. Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta have criticized the fact that the civilian ships “act completely independently of the responsible state authorities”, as a statement over the weekend said. “We reiterate our position that the modus operandi of these private vessels is not in accordance with the spirit of the international legal framework for search and rescue operations, which should be respected.”
Italy’s new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party said on Friday that “new measures” would be taken against NGO ships. He did not elaborate. “Each state must exercise its jurisdiction and control over vessels flying its flag,” the four states asserted in their letter. The EU Commission and Council Presidency should take the “necessary steps” to discuss the future of such operations.
France suspends solidarity pact
For years, civilian agencies – including Germany’s – have been deployed to the central Mediterranean to take migrants and refugees aboard their ships. They then regularly apply for permission to call at a port in Malta and Italy. Malta has been refusing requests for years, with ships always allowed to dock in Italy after often waiting days, according to rescuers. Earlier this week, however, Meloni’s government refused to allow the SOS Méditerranée organization to enter a port in Sicily with its ship “Ocean Viking” and 234 migrants on board.
The ship docked at Toulon in southern France, causing diplomatic turmoil between Paris and Rome. “Italy does not respect international law or shipping laws,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told “Le Parisien” (Sunday) newspaper. The ship was only recorded as an exception. “If Italy sticks to this view there will be consequences.”
Paris has suspended a June solidarity deal that would have seen Mediterranean migrants stay in Italy and increase controls on the Italian-French border.