Italy wants migrant rescue ships sent back to countries funding their operation

By Isaac M September 30, 2023

Rescue ships run by charities that pick up migrants at sea should be returned to the countries funding them, Italy’s foreign minister has said.

Antonio Tajani spoke after Germany confirmed it was supporting three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) regularly bringing migrants to Italy.

Italy has been struggling to deal with an influx of migrants, with 133,170 coming from boats so far this year – compared to 70,796 over the same period last year.

It’s been a source of embarrassment for Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who came to power promising to stem migration from North Africa.

It has led to Rome calling for more time to review the text of a new EU migration pact, unexpectedly delaying an agreement on Thursday.

“We want to make a deal for a new pact,” Mr Tajani told state television RAI.

“The NGOs flying a German flag or that of another country should pick up the migrants and take them to their countries.”

Earlier this week, Ms Meloni wrote to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz telling him she had learned of the German financing with “astonishment”.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock met Mr Tajani on Thursday and defended the decision, saying the groups were saving lives.

Ms Meloni’s coalition has accused the rescue charities of encouraging people to make the dangerous crossing, which they deny.

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Meloni answers question from Sky News

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Italy has also accused charity ships of acting as a de-facto taxi service for migrants, with the country bringing forward legislation this year to restrict their operations.

Only around 5% of all those who have tried to reach Italy in 2023 have been picked up by the NGOs, they say, adding their sole purpose is to save lives.

But Italy has clashed with European allies in the past, including a major row with France last November when it refused to let a ship run by a French NGO bring 230 people ashore.

The boat then brought the migrants directly to France.

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