More than 73,000 migrants have landed in Italy this year, an increase of 14% on the same period last year.
Some 2,000 have died or are missing feared drowned, the UN’s refugee agency says, the vast majority attempting the crossing from Libya. Libya is a gateway to Europe for migrants from across sub-Saharan Africa and also from the Arabian peninsula, Egypt, Syria and Bangladesh. Many are fleeing war, poverty or persecution.
An Italian government source told Reuters: “The idea of blocking humanitarian ships flying foreign flags from returning to Italian ports has been discussed. Italy has reached saturation point.”
Rules on disembarking are governed by international law and the EU office on migration said any changes to guidelines should give humanitarian groups time to prepare. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea dictates that any ship learning of distress at sea must assist regardless of circumstances, and that the country responsible for operations in that area has primary responsibility for taking them from the ship.
It also clearly states that the relevant government “shall arrange for such disembarkation to be effected as soon as reasonably practicable.” For boats departing from western Libya, Italy is likely to be the closest port.
In April, an Italian prosecutor claimed humanitarian charities were “colluding” with people smugglers in Libya, alleging that phone calls were made between the two parties.
Italy has seen more than 500,000 migrants arrive by boat since 2014.
Libya has been in chaos since long-serving ruler Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in October 2011.