Italy: Measures to fine and impound charity rescue ships will cost lives at sea

Reacting to a vote in the Italian parliament approving a new, stricter set of requirements for charities that rescue migrants at sea, accompanied by the prospect of fines and the impoundment of their ships, Amnesty International’s Migration Researcher, Matteo de Bellis, said:

“These measures are clearly designed to hinder NGOs undertaking life-saving search and rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. This is part of an effort to ensure that as many people as possible are instead intercepted by Libyan coastguards and returned to Libya where they face arbitrary detention and torture.

“This new legislation – in combination with the ‘distant ports’ practice, requiring NGO ships to disembark rescued people in ports a long way from where rescues are typically carried out – risks resulting in more deaths at sea. It will inevitably lead to increased suffering for shipwreck survivors, and in further criminalization of the legitimate work of human rights defenders.”


On 15 February 2023, the Italian Chamber of Deputies approved legislation transposing Decree-Law N.1 of 2 January 2023, previously adopted by the Italian government, into ordinary legislation. The legislation will now move to the Senate, which is expected to vote by 2 March 2023.

A number of organizations, including the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, have criticized the new legislation and the “distant ports” practice, which could be at variance with Italy’s obligations under international law and risk depriving people in distress at sea of life-saving assistance from rescue NGOs.

Amnesty International’s analysis of the two measures is available here:

Amnesty International’s recommendations on how to approach the situation of refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean is available here: