Personnel of a Maltese Armed Force vessel, right, helps a man to board their ship from the German humanitarian vessel Alan Kurdi, off the Maltese coast, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019.. The humanitarian group said the 40 migrants that were rescued at sea off the coast of Libya have been successfully transferred to the Maltese military boats to be brought to port. Alan Kurdi had headed toward Malta after Italy again refused to open its ports to a humanitarian rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea. (Pavel D. Vitko/ via AP)

UN refugee agency says new Italian law could endanger lives

August 06, 2019 - 9:56 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United Nations refugee agency expressed concern Tuesday that a new Italian law authorizing massive fines against the owners of private rescue ships could endanger the lives of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

A so-called "security decree" drafted by Italy's right-wing interior minister and approved by lawmakers raised the maximum fine for entering Italian waters without permission to 1 million euros ($1.1 million) from a previous 50,000 euros ($56,000).

The law also allows for the arrest of captains who ignore orders to stay out of Italian ports and the immediate seizure of their boats by Italian naval authorities.

The U.N. agency said non-governmental organizations operating rescue ships play "an invaluable role" in saving lives and "the commitment and humanity that motivates their activities should not be criminalized or stigmatized."

Italy's law "could deter or impede sea rescue activities by private vessels at a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts" in the Mediterranean, UNHCR said.

The European Union's executive commission said it was analyzing the legislation to see if it is compatible with EU laws.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has refused to allow ships on humanitarian rescue missions to bring migrants into the country's ports. The captain of a German aid group's rescue ship defied the order, while smuggler's boats continue to arrive at Italy's southernmost Lampedusa island on their own.

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