Italy toughens grip on disembarking migrants coming via Libya’s shores on its islands

Illegal immigrants, who were rescued by the Libyan coastguard in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, arrive at a naval base in the capital Tripoli on May 10, 2017. [AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD TURKIA]
Italy has been urged on Monday to reverse a decision to turn away a rescue vessel that picked up 53 migrants fleeing north Africa across the Mediterranean as concern grew over the fate of those onboard.

Matteo Salvini, the Italian deputy prime minister and interior minister, gave permission for only ten of the rescued to disembark on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, which lies between the Italian mainland and the north African coast.

However he warned the rest should be returned to Libyan territorial waters and off-loaded in Tripoli.

The stand-off has renewed sniping between the European Commission and Rome over how to handle the plight of those who put to sea in flimsy craft only to be picked up in difficulty.

“Ships flying the European flag are obliged to respect international law and the right to search and rescue at sea which entails the need to bring people to a safe place or port and the Commission is convinced, and we continue to say even today, these conditions are not found in Libya,” a spokeswoman added on Monday.

The Sea-Watch 3 rescue boat has said two pregnant women, three children, a woman, two sick men and two companions were cleared to put ashore.

The vessel rescued 53 migrants drifting in an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya last week.

The Sea Watch crew has said it will continue to search for a safe port and that the option of turning them over to Libya does not exist.

The German-based group reported that a raid by Italian officials on the boat took place on Sunday night. The Italians served notice of a new law coming into force that gave them the right to impose harsh new penalties on voluntary rescue missions.

The 18-article decree would bring fines on the captain, owner and operator of a vessel “entering Italian territorial waters without authorisation”.

Mr Salvini has seen his popularity soar in the last year after taking a hard line against migrants, including forced returns to Libya.

More than 12,000 people have died since 2014 trying to flee Libya to Europe.

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