Refugees: Former MEP urges EU Parliament to intervene in Mediterranean

Former Greens MEP Monica Frassoni has angrily hit out at the “ongoing criminalisation of NGOs” who help migrants in the Mediterranean.

Refugee arrivals | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Aug 2017

Her comments come as new figures show that some 181,500 migrants were rescued and taken to Italy in 2016 alone.

However, there have been recent accusations that rescue groups are “helping criminals”.

The Italian Parliament has also launched a fact-finding mission into the issue, which is hearing evidence from law-enforcement agencies and aid workers.

Frassoni, an Italian MP, intervened in the debate on Wednesday, saying she was concerned at such allegations.

She also urged the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee to intervene by taking a “close look at the unfolding events in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Frassoni, a former leader of the Greens group in the European Parliament, is now co- chair of the European Greens.

Speaking on Wednesday, she said, “Right-wing groups have seized on unsubstantiated claims made by a prosecutor in Sicily that NGOs were colluding with criminal gangs and allegedly making phone calls to Libya.”

Referring to the authorities’ “criminalisation” of NGOs who rescue people in the Mediterranean Sea, she said, “The European Greens express concern and dismay at the ongoing criminalisation of NGO rescues in the Mediterranean by the Italian authorities, and demand that the Italian government urgently reviews some of the most controversial parts of the Code of Conduct for NGOs.

Frassoni, who takes a close interest in human rights issues, added, “The Code of Conduct contradicts, in several ways, the current international regulations for rescue operations at sea, and in its current form greatly hinders the life-saving operations. This is notably the case where the prohibition of the transfer of migrants from one boat to another is concerned.

“The Code of Conduct also infringes current practices of internationally recognised NGOs, which are based on the absence of armed people on their premises.

“We urge the European Commission and the European Parliament to take a close and careful look at the legal and operational consequences of the Code of Conduct, and to refrain from lending their support to the Italian authorities too hastily.

“There is no invasion of migrants in Italy, nor indeed in Europe as a whole! However, manipulative fake news campaigns are having a major effect on public opinion.

“Libya, as correctly noted by Secretary of State Giro, is not a safe place to send migrants back to. Additionally, we agree with Transport Minister Delrio when he says that the Code of Conduct should not derogate from international regulations on rescues at sea. It is welcome news that the attitude of minister of the interior Minniti has been criticised within the Italian government.

“In this respect, we express our deepest concern at the pushback of almost 1,000 people back to Libya in the last few days, carried out by the Libyan navy and assisted by Italian vessels.

“It is time to stop criminalising those who are trying to help in the absence of effective action by public authorities. About 40 per cent of current search and rescue operations are carried out by NGOs, and despite their efforts and the efforts of the Italian navy, more than 5,000 people died in the Mediterranean over the last 12 months.”

She added, “We don't want to see a repeat of the events that took place when Italy sent back more than 1,000 migrants to Libya between 2009 and 2010. Italy was later condemned by the court of human rights.

“Today, it is the whole of the EU and most of its member states which face such a shame: for their persistent lack of political will to implement the reallocation decision of 2015; for refusing to help Italy with the arrival of migrants and the organisation of safe humanitarian corridors; for refusing to develop a joint strategy in Libya away from individual and sporadic initiatives in favour of this or that war lord; and for giving too little attention and resources to a common cooperation policy in the area.”

The former MEP said, “We urge the civil liberties committee to intervene by taking a close look at the unfolding events in the Mediterranean Sea.”

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