NGOs attack Europe's 'campaign of criminalisation' of rescue boats
Humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee announced Monday that it would re-launch rescue efforts next month with its new ship called Ocean Viking, eight months after its former vessel the Aquarius stopped operating.
"Every effort is made to scare and to prevent ships from doing their job," Frederic Penard, head of operations at SOS Mediterranee, told a press conference in Paris.
He added in a statement: "European states are targeting civilian ships with an intense campaign of criminalisation."
Italy under far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has refused to allow NGO ships carrying people saved at sea to dock in its ports.
Last month, Italian authorities arrested the German captain of the Sea-Watch 3 charity boat, Carola Rackete, after she hit an Italian speedboat while docking without permission in the southern port of Lampedusa.
European interior and foreign ministers, as well as officials from the European Commission and the UN's refugee agency, met in Paris on Monday for another attempt at finding a mechanism which would enable such refugees to be shared out around the continent.
Only a handful of countries are ready to sign up, with many such as Poland and Hungary firmly opposed to any such system.
At present, NGO boats must try to find a country ready to admit them each time they rescue migrants and refugees, leading to time-consuming negotiations between EU members states over who will accept the boat and its human cargo.
Salvini snubbed the meeting on Monday, writing on Twitter that "France and Germany cannot decide on migration policies while ignoring the demands of the most exposed countries such as us and Malta."
The anti-immigration politician, who once accused the NGOs of running a "taxi service" for migrants, has demanded that other European countries open up their ports to the boats and complained that Italy is not included in the sharing mechanism.
A meeting last Thursday in Helsinki which was attended by Salvini also failed to break the deadlock over how to manage refugees rescued in the Mediterranean.
A French source said on Monday that Paris was "confident" of having a system in place by September that would include around 10 countries.
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