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Libyan Newswire

UNHCR Italy Factsheet, July 2019

The Chamber of Deputies approved the conversion into law of the decree on security passed by the Government of Italy, tightening measures against vessels conducting rescue at sea.

In July, stand-offs continued to occur over the disembarkation of individuals rescued at sea in the Central Mediterranean. During the month, 1,088 refugees and migrants reached Italian shores.

On 25 July, 150 refugees and migrants were reported dead and missing in the most serious incident at sea since May 2017.

Operational Context

On 25 July, the Chamber of Deputies approved the conversion into law of the decree on security recently passed by the Government of Italy. Some amendments to the original text were concurrently approved, further tightening the decree's provisions which address non-military and non-governmental vessels that engage in rescue at sea activities. Vessels that disregard the prohibition to enter Italian territorial waters would be subject to seizure starting from the first violation of the entry ban, and to fines ranging from Euros 150,000 to Euros 1,000,000. The conversion law is to be finally approved by mid-August, following discussion before the Senate. In July, UNHCR gave evidence in two hearings before the Chamber's joint Justice and Constitutional Affairs Commissions, and the Senate's Constitutional Affairs Commission. UNHCR focused on the potentially negative impact of the decree on search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, reiterating the positions set out in an earlier press release that no vessel or shipmasters should be at risk of a fine for coming to the aid of boats in distress and where loss of life may be imminent. UNHCR is of the view that at a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean, NGO vessels are of utmost importance, as without them it is inevitable that more lives will be lost. On 18 July, several UN Special Rapporteurs also released a statement condemning Italy's criminalization of rescue activities in the Central Mediterranean and threats to the independence of the judiciary.

In July, various NGO rescue vessels were operational in the Central Mediterranean, including the Proactiva Open Arms, run by NGO Open Arms, and the Alan Kurdi, run by NGO Sea Eye. NGO Mediterranea also returned at sea in early July with their support vessel Alex, as their other vessel, the Mare Jonio, remained moored in Sicily further to the seizure by the Italian authorities. Furthermore, in July, NGOs SOS MediterranAe and MSF announced their return at sea with the Norwegian-flagged vessel Ocean Viking.

During the month, stand-offs continued to occur over the disembarkation in Italy of individuals rescued at sea in the Central Mediterranean. Following the rescue of 59 refugees and migrants off the Libyan coast on 4 July, the NGO vessel Alex was prevented from entering Italian territorial waters. The vessel stationed in international waters until 6 July, when the crew declared the state of emergency due to the intolerable hygienic conditions on board and the Alex entered territorial waters. On 7 July, the Italian authorities eventually authorized the disembarkation of the rescued persons in Lampedusa. The vessel was seized and the captain was placed under investigation in connection with allegations of aiding and abetting illegal immigration. The captain, the ship-owner, and the shipping company were also fined Euros 64,000 each for having violated the entry ban.

Furthermore, at the end of the month, the authorization to disembark some 140 rescued refugees and migrants from the Italian Coast Guard vessel Gregoretti was delayed for days until an agreement was reached regarding the subsequent transfer of the group to selected European countries (France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal).

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

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