According to Reuters, Italy’s far-right government approved a cabinet decree on Wednesday (December 28) that tightens regulations for charity ships that save migrants at sea. These regulations will make it more difficult for such ships to save as many migrants as they can, and they come with harsh penalties for breaking them.

The action coincides with the escalation of anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation in Italy. Under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the new far-right government was elected on a staunch anti-immigration platform. The Brothers of Italy party, whose ancestry can be traced all the way back to Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in the early 20th century, is led by Meloni.

Humanitarian groups have taken the lead in protesting the most recent attack on undocumented immigrants, calling it unethical and possibly fatal.

Italy has seen an increase in the number of migrants looking for safety on its shores over the past 30 years. According to data from the World Bank, compared to 1990, when they made up 2.5% of the total population, international migrants made up roughly 9.5% of the total population in 2015.

Numerous political and economic upheavals in Africa and West Asia have also contributed to an increase in “illegal migration,” or the clandestine entry of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers into Italy. Migrants frequently face serious risks. For instance, migrants frequently travel a perilous route across the Mediterranean Sea to enter Italy.

According to data from the interior ministry, almost 104,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far in 2022, down from a peak of more than 181,000 in 2016 and about 67,000 during the same time last year.

Immigration has become a contentious political issue as a result of the migration wave into Italy. With the election of a far-right government in 2022, a growing far-right movement has gained traction in the nation. Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister, has been outspoken about her opposition to immigration and her opposition to globalism.

Throughout her career, Meloni has argued in favour of preventing migrants from entering Italian ports and has emphasised the importance of increasing the birthrate of Italian citizens in order to reduce the demand for migrant labour. According to a report in The Guardian, she had also once said that “Italy should repatriate migrants and sink boats that rescued them.”

Meloni’s administration has started keeping its election promises after winning on an anti-immigration platform. Rome has made it more difficult for migrants saved from the sea to receive protection inside its borders thanks to a sharply criticised plan put into place in October.

Early in November, a standoff involving a rescue boat made headlines in Europe. A boat carrying nearly 200 refugees attempted to dock in Italy but was turned away; the boat eventually sailed to France. As a result, there was a diplomatic impasse between the two countries.

According to the most recent cabinet directive, ships should request a port and sail there “without delay” after rescuing any person(s) from the water rather than continuing to search for other migrant boats that may be in trouble.

Several charities and NGOs are currently conducting rescue operations off the coast of Italy in an effort to find migrants whose flimsy boats may have capsized in rough seas. These rescue ships typically run for days at a time, performing numerous rescues and possibly transporting hundreds of people.

The new law in Italy will force captains to turn around as soon as they perform even one rescue, which could have fatal repercussions. The decree is a component of a strategy that “increases the risk of death for thousands of people,” according to Riccardo Gatti, captain of a rescue ship operated by the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières, in an interview published in the Italian newspaper la Repubblica on Thursday.

Finding one floating survivor in the water may indicate that there are many more nearby. The new law in Italy, however, will prevent rescue vessels from conducting any more search operations. In accordance with the new decree, the captains are also required to let the survivors know that “they can ask for international protection anywhere in the European Union.”

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