Tripoli — CIVIL society and humanitarian organisations have condemned moves by Italy to enact legislation that targets people rescuing migrants at sea.
The Italian Parliament this week approved the conversion into law a security decree that imposes more severe penalties on boats and people conducting search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
Fines for private vessels that undertake rescue of stranded migrants and refugees into Italy's territorial waters have risen to a maximum of €1 million (R18 million).
"The latest piece of legislation approved is indeed an unprecedented act of criminalization of solidarity," Solidair, the civil society group, stated.
The organisation argued Italy was in breach of international law by pushing back human beings towards war zones, particularly Libya.
Charlie Yaxley, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson, financial or other penalties on shipmasters could deter sea rescue activities at a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Mediterranean.
He said the commitment and humanity that motivates shipmasters' activities should not be criminalised or stigmatised.
"The extremely volatile security situation, ongoing conflict, widespread reports of human rights violations and routine use of arbitrary detention for people disembarked back to Libya underline the fact that it is not a viable place of safety," Yaxley said.