The government also has pressed rescue groups to sign on to rules that would forbid them from entering Libyan waters to save migrants without specific authorization and require them to agree that armed Italian judicial authorities may board their ships.
Italy is requiring groups operating rescue ships to subscribe to the rules or risk not being allowed to dock in Italian ports. Doctors Without Borders has refused to endorse the rules, while some other humanitarian groups have given their approval.
Critics of the new policies say they could put lives at risk by delaying rescues in Libyan waters. They also contend that if the Libyan Coast Guard blocks smugglers’ boats, migrants will be returned to inhumane conditions, including beatings and forced labor, in Libyan detention centers.
“If humanitarian ships are pushed out of the Mediterranean, there will be fewer ships ready to aid persons before they drown,” the president of the Italian branch of Doctors Without Borders, Loris De Filippi, said in a statement. “And whoever doesn’t drown will be intercepted and brought back to Libya, which we know to be a place of absent legality, arbitrary detention and extreme violence.”
A Spanish humanitarian group, Proactiva Open Arms, said the Libyan Coast Guard ordered its rescue ship to move north and fired warning shots recently when the vessel was involved in search-and-rescue work outside of Libyan territory.
Humanitarian groups have had ships monitoring the Mediterranean Sea outside of Libya’s territorial waters to help rescue migrants from smugglers’ boats in distress. The Italian Coast Guard coordinates the rescues, including those conducted by naval vessels from other European countries.
Anti-migrant sentiment has been rising in Italy, where newcomers from Africa and the Middle East are being blamed for crimes.