Italy closes ports to NGO ship carrying 179 migrants
Only children, pregnant women and people in ill health will be let into Italy, Interior Minister Piantedosi says.
Italy said an NGO ship carrying 179 migrants will be turned away from Italian ports and redirected to international waters once minors and vulnerable people have disembarked.
Speaking to journalists on Friday following a cabinet meeting, newly-installed Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said the government had adopted a decree requiring German-flagged vessel Humanity 1 — currently anchored off Sicily — to remain in Italy’s waters only temporarily.
“That will be only for the time necessary to check for emergencies on board, whether health-related or otherwise,” Piantedosi said, according to Italian press agency Adnkronos. Piantedosi said children, pregnant women and people in ill health will be let into Italy.
“People who are not in urgent need of help will have to be taken back to international waters,” the minister said.
Among the migrants rescued at sea by Humanity 1 are more than 100 unaccompanied minors, including a seven-month-old baby, according to media reports.
Piantedosi said that the ship “forced the situation” by entering Italian waters.
The position of the newly installed Italian government, led by right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, is that ships should turn to their flag country to get access to a safe port. Italian newspaper La Repubblica, quoting people aboard Humanity 1, reported that people are falling ill and shivering on the deck and that inclement weather gave the crew no choice but to enter Italy’s waters to seek refuge.
Piantedosi said that the government decree toward the Humanity 1 was “the first act” of a policy aimed at calling on flag countries to “respect their obligations” while respecting human rights. But it is unlikely to be the the last: In a communication published in late October, the interior ministry singled out Humanity 1 alongside Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking — which is also stationed off Sicily and is carrying 234 people — as ships that may be forbidden access to Italian waters.
In his press conference, Piantedosi mentioned another vessel, Rise Above, that is grappling with an apparent mutiny. Adnkronos reported that government decrees analogous to the one adopted for Humanity 1 are in the pipeline for these two vessels.
Meloni made a hard-line approach to fighting illegal immigration as one of her key campaigning issues in the general election. Her government coalition partner, Matteo Salvini, when Interior minister in 2018-2019, had pioneered a similar combative stance towards NGOs rescuing migrants at sea, making the slogan “let’s close the ports” one of his calling cards.