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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Italy adopts hardline anti-migrant bill

The new law will make it easier to expel migrants and strip them of citizenship

TOPSHOT - A policeman checks a migrant leaving from the Italian Coast Guard vessel Diciotti at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily on June 19, 2018, following a rescue operation of migrants and refugees at sea. / AFP / Giovanni ISOLINO
TOPSHOT - A policeman checks a migrant leaving from the Italian Coast Guard vessel Diciotti at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily on June 19, 2018, following a rescue operation of migrants and refugees at sea. / AFP / Giovanni ISOLINO

The Italian government on Monday adopted a hardline security decree which will make it easier to expel migrants and strip them of Italian citizenship.

The new bill is "a step forward to make Italy safer," Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Facebook, adding that it would help Italy "be stronger in the fight against the mafia and (people) smugglers".

He said the government at a Cabinet meeting on Monday approved a decree setting tighter criteria for such protection, which accords a status less than full asylum.

Humanitarian protection will only be granted for victims of labour exploitation, human trafficking, domestic violence, natural calamities or those needing medical care as well as to those who performed "deeds of particular civic value," an apparent reference to heroism.

He said asylum-request evaluations will be suspended for those deemed "socially dangerous" or convicted of crime, even before court appeals run out. Mr Salvini insisted: "We're not harming any fundamental rights."

The decree also calls for reduced daily pocket money for asylum-seekers.

His government has moved to stop rescue boats from saving migrants at sea and bringing them to Italy's shores, arguing that other European Union countries need to do more.

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Read more:

Spain rescues more than 440 migrants from boats in Mediterranean

NGO-run Aquarius makes first rescue since Italy turned it away

Over 200 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean in first days of July

Angela Merkel holds crisis talks with coalition partners as migration row intensifies

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The humanitarian groups operating the sole private rescue boat operating near the deadly central Mediterranean human trafficking route are urging European countries to intervene in order to secure its future after Panama moved to cancel the ship's registration.

Medecins Sans Frontieres and SOS Mediterranee described the decision by the Panama Maritime Authority to de-flag the vessel as shameful.

Francis Vallat, the head of SOS Mediterranee France, asked European countries on Monday during a news conference to "find a solution, whatever it is. We can't stop. We don't want to stop. We will only yield to force and constraint."

Panama's maritime authority said over the weekend it has begun procedures to remove the registration of Aquarius 2 after Italy complained that the boat's captain failed to follow orders.

Italy placed “blatant and economic political pressure” on the Panama Maritime Authority (PMA) to revoke the registration of Aquarius 2, said SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) which runs the ship.

“European leaders seem ruthless when it comes to adopting tactics that are more and more offensive and cruel in order to promote their political interests at the expense of human lives,” Karline Kleijer, emergency coordinator at MSF, said in Sunday’s statement.

Mr Salvini denied his involvement in a tweet, saying “no pressure at all on Panama for the Aquarius 2. I don’t even know what Panama’s country code is.”

The ship, which is engaged in rescue operations in the Mediterranean, had been sailing under the Panama flag since August, when Gibraltar revoked its registration.

When it next docks, it will lose its flag and not be able to leave port again until another maritime authority agrees to register the ship. An MSF spokesperson told The National that the ship was still at sea with 58 migrants on board following two rescue mission. It was unclear when and where it would next dock.

NGOs consider the recent development as the latest in a string of attacks conducted by Italy’s far-right Lega politician towards the work of humanitarian organisation, which he previously attacked for providing a “taxi service” to migrants attempting to reach Italian shores.

The Aquarius was left stranded with 630 migrants on board in June when Mr Salvini vowed to turn away rescue ships from its shores. It was finally forced to make a 1,300km journey to dock in Spain, sparking a diplomatic crisis with the European Union over how to handle migrants.