Italy’s far-right home affairs minister Matteo Salvini is planning to introduce a law which would fine sea rescue NGOs up to €5,500 for every rescued migrant they bring to Italy.
The decree, which Italian media said Mr Salvini had announced during a visit to Naples, must be presented to ministers before it is tabled in parliament.
It proposes fines ranging from €3,500 to €5,500 for “each transported foreigner” and would also allow authorities to revoke or suspend the licenses of Italian vessels transporting rescued refugees.
Aid groups have blasted the plans and described them as a “declaration of war against NGOs saving lives at sea”.
Mr Salvini’s proposal would appear to run contrary to Italy’s obligations under international law.
Salvini's open disdain
The hardline minister has, however, made no secret of his disdain for sea rescue operations, accusing NGOs of running a “taxi service for migrants” and shutting Italy’s ports to people rescued at sea.
Medecins Sans Frontieres were quick to blast the proposal, likening it to “fining ambulances for bringing patients to hospital”.
Other NGOs however said that Mr Salvini’s proposal was unlikely to become law.
“Captains doing rescues at sea do not have a choice,” said Frederic Penard of SOS Mediteranee.
Proactiva Open Arms similarly said that they expected the proposal to slowly fade from view.
“Salvini’s objective is often to make some noise with some huge declarations that turn out to be false after some time,” the organisation’s Riccardo Gatti told The Independent.
Malta's hardline stance
Although Italy has taken an especially dim view of sea rescue NGOs, it is not the only country to hinder their work: last year, Malta’s government also effectively shut its ports to such ships, saying it needed to ascertain that their work was “in accordance to national and international rules”.
As part of that crackdown, Maltese authorities had also pressed charges against the captain of the MV Lifeline. On Tuesday, a court found that the Dutch-registered vessel had not been properly registered and ordered him to pay €10,000 to NGOs which help refugees and the poor.