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ITALY allowed eight refugees and two escorts to disembark from the Sea Watch 3 rescue ship at the weekend – but Interior Minister Matteo Salvini signed a decree banning the humanitarian organisation from the country’s waters.
The refugees, including two pregnant women and three children, were taken to land because they needed urgent medical attention. Forty-three people remain confined on the ship.
Mr Salvini has shrugged his shoulders at demands he allow the rest of the refugees to disembark, saying the “outlaw” ship had been ordered to go to Libya and disobeyed. “For me it can stay where it is for months, until New Year,” he said. His new decree bans Sea Watch vessels from “entry, transit and stopping in Italian waters,” but must be passed by parliament.
Sea Watch said the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, the EU and even the Italian Foreign Ministry have declared Libya unsafe. It pointed out that in the last 10 days alone “a hospital, an airport and several districts [in Libya] were bombed. This is the country where they tell us to bring back the rescued people. We will never do it.”
Libya has not had a unified government since Nato countries helped armed jihadists overthrow Muammar Gadaffi in 2010-11. Currently a rebel general, Khalifa Haftar, is battling Isis militants in the south and making a bid for supreme power. Italy has accused France of backing his revolt, since France’s Total oil firm has oil concessions in Haftar-controlled territory, while Italian rival ENI has deals with the Tripoli government.
At the weekend an earlier decree of Mr Salvini’s was signed into law by Italian President Sergio Mattarella. It stipulates fines of €10-50,000 (£9,000-£44,000) for the captain and owner of any ship disembarking refugees rescued from drowning in Italy, allows the confiscation of such ships and moves jurisdiction over the offence from ordinary prosecutors to anti-mafia prosecutors, a fast-track to sentencing which sidesteps trouble the Interior Ministry has had with prosecutors who deny Sea Watch has committed any crimes.
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