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Human rights activists concerned by Salvini's plans to use military to prevent migrant arrivals

RIGHTS campaigners have hit out at Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s extreme new plans to use military ships to prevent migrants from reaching the country’s shores.

Italy’s Associated National Press Agency (Ansa) reported yesterday that, according to sources inside the Interior Ministry, the far-right minister escalated his war on refugees at a public order & security committee meeting this week.

Ansa reported his plans included using naval vessels and those of the financial police to “defend” Italian ports; sending Italian patrol boats to work with the EU-funded Libyan coastguard; working with Tunisia to reduce the number of migrant departures from its coasts and increasing fines against non-governmental organisations that — in Salvini’s terms — assist with human trafficking.

The plans appear to be a response to several NGO migrant-rescue ships, which have continued to defy Italy’s anti-migrant laws and carry out life-saving rescue missions in the Mediterranean that the European Union dropped in March.

“The Italian government has embarked on a dangerous course,” Gorden Isler, chairman of the German charity Sea-Eye, told the Star yesterday.

Sea-Eye’s ship, the Alan Kurdi, has saved the lives of 108 migrants in the last two weeks.

“[Italy is] thwarting international laws with national decrees. Basic human rights are being called into question. Actions contrary to international law are openly presented as proposed solutions.

“I think that Matteo Salvini is a very dangerous man.“

In June, while Italy was battling to keep the Sea Watch 3 from its shores, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) called on the country’s government to reconsider criminalising sea rescues.

UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley told the Star that some of the measures put forward by Mr Salvini are very concerning.

“NGO boats have played a vital role in recent years in saving lives at sea, and should not be criminalised,” Mr Yaxley said.

“Not only is saving lives at sea the right thing to do, it’s a fundamental obligation under international law.

“The worry here is that shipmasters will ignore, or hesitate in responding to, distress calls out of fear of the legal consequences. This could be fatal at a time when those vital seconds can be a question of life or death.”

On Tuesday the Italian NGO Mediterranea Saving Lives, which brought 54 migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa last weekend, tweeted: “Will the armed forces open fire on ships that have people saved on board?

“It seems to us that this country is really falling towards the abyss.”

The authorities on Lampedusa have impounded the charity’s ship, the Alex.

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