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Italy seizes NGO's refugee rescue ship after local judge order
Published : 02 Aug 2017, 23:41
Italian police and coast guard authorities on Wednesday implemented an order by a judge for preventative seizure of the Iuventa, a ship flying the Dutch flag operating for the German NGO Jugend Rettet, Ansa news agency reported.
The order is related to a probe into alleged aiding of illegal immigration, according to Ansa reports. Jugend Rettet is one of several NGOs conducting migrant rescues in the Mediterranean which refused to sign a new code of conduct at the Italian interior ministry earlier this week.
The European Commission has said that NGOs that do not sign the code will not be guaranteed of access to Italian ports. Earlier on Tuesday, Jugend Rettet said via Twitter that the vessel "has not been confiscated" after it was stopped and checked at the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Jugend Rettet is one of five humanitarian groups that declined to sign Italy's new code of conduct for migrant rescue NGOs. Doctors without Borders (MSF), Sea Watch, Sea Eye, and SOS Mediterranee NGOs also declined to subscribe to the code of conduct, which was drawn up by Italy and approved by the European Commission in July.
The Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), Pro Activa Open Arms from Spain, and Save the Children agreed to sign, saying they already follow all the rules stipulated in the code.
Jugend Rettet explained that although it didn't sign Italy's code, it wants to keep talking to authorities, suggested bringing in the United Nations as a mediator, and said the European Union as a whole, not just Italy, must "take responsibility" for the ongoing refugee and asylum seeker emergency.
"Some paragraphs (of the NGO code of conduct) might have forced us to break international maritime law. Other paragraphs are in direct contrast to the humanitarian principles on which our work is based," Jugend Rettet wrote in a statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday.
Berlin-based Jugend Rettet has a core team of 11 members and a network of 70 people across Germany, according to the NGO's website. It was founded in 2015, in response to mass drownings of refugees and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean.
Due to a lack of legal routes into Europe, thousands of men, women and children fleeing war and famine in North Africa and the Middle East pay hefty sums to embark on unseaworthy boats run by human traffickers in a bid to reach Europe. Most of the vessels leave from Libya, with Italy as the nearest European landfall on the so-called Central Mediterranean route.
Also on Wednesday, Italy's Lower House of Parliament approved the government's operational mission to support the Libyan Coast Guard in the fight against migrant traffickers in the Mediterranean.
According to the latest running tally by the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration (IOM), 114,287 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through July 30. At least 2,385 died in the attempt, according to the IOM.