Italy’s ‘code of conduct’ for NGOs refused by 6/8 charities

ROME - The Italian Ministry of the Interior’s attempt to reduce the arrivals of immigrants in Italy by means of a set of rules and regulations in a ‘Code of Conduct’ was shut down by six out of the eight humanitarian organisations in the Central Mediterranean. Just Moas (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) and Save the Children signed the deal. 

 The ministry have warned those who did not sign the pact that they have set themselves “outside of the organised system for rescue at sea”. About ten operating ships in the Mediterranean are responsible for 40 per cent of the almost 100,000 migrants to arrive in Italy, according to Italian Minister of the Interior Marco Minniti. 

 MSF was the first charity to officially announce its ‘no’ to the code, in an open letter penned by CEO Gabriele Eminente to the Minister, publicly available on their website. He acknowledged "the ministry's constructive efforts and approach, but some of [MSF’s] concerns have remained unanswered and therefore there are no conditions under which to sign." 

 First of all, he explained, the document "does not reaffirm with sufficient clarity the priority of rescue at sea and does not recognise the role of substitution carried out by humanitarian organizations". Then, he noted, "there are two most problematic points: one stating that vessels engaged in rescue must disembark survivors to a place of safety as a rule instead of transferring to other rescue ships and the presence on board of armed police officers, which is contrary to the 'no-weapons' policy that we strictly apply in all of our projects in the world."

 German NGO, Sea Watch, has said that the Code is "largely illegal" and "will not save lives but will have the opposite effect. What is needed in light of over 200,000 deaths of this year is no longer rules, but more rescue skills.”

 Save the Children’s director Valerio Neri, however, did sign the contract. “Much of the contract point to things we already do and there were clarifications on a couple of points we were worried about, so we had no problems signing it. We are convinced that we did the right thing and I'm sorry that other NGOs did not follow us."

 It is not yet known what “measures” will be taken by the Italian authorities for those NGOs who do not adhere. The Ministry of the Interior believes they have done "all they can" to meet the demands of the NGOs, but now those who have not signed will have to bear the "consequences".

 Banning the dinghy for humanitarian ships in Italian ports was discussed, but it has not come to this. It it thought that there will be a new arrangement of navy units at sea near the Libyan waters. Italian ports could also be subjected to meticulous bureaucratic checks for documents, with on-board inspections, which would cause a blockade of activity for several days.