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Italy is holding a Doctors Without Borders ship in port

The 48 people rescued by Geo Barents in international waters off the Libyan coast last week were mainly Egyptian nationals. Geo Barents followed the instructions of the Italian authorities and took them to the port of Ancona on the Adriatic coast.

When the ship left the immigrants there, it turned more towards Augusta in Sicily.

– We were supposed to go out for a new rescue today Friday, but last night the Italian Coast Guard announced that our ship had been detained for 20 days and that we had to pay a fine for the last rescue, says Juan Matias Gil, who is the chief of operations at Geo Barents.

The reason is purely formal Administrative offence. The exact amount of the fine is yet to be determined, but it ranges between 2,000 and 10,000 euros (22,000-110,000 kronor). Doctors Without Borders will appeal the decision, as it suspects that there are political motives behind it.

Recently, the authorities have begun to demand increasingly detailed reports on our rescue efforts. They want everything from our exact speed and trajectory to a full range of details about those we’re saving. We gave them all of this. So they are clearly just looking for an excuse to detain our boat and reduce the time we can spend at sea. This is just harassment directed at civil society rescue efforts. And it is completely in line with the new policy of the Italian government, says Juan Matias Gil.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni Aid organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have been accused of encouraging migrants to reach Italy. Therefore, its right-wing nationalist government wants to introduce a new “code of conduct” for aid-organization ships, which will, among other things, make going to port compulsory – and thus it will become illegal to take castaways off more than one boat at a time.

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The law has been heavily criticized for being contrary to international law. But last Thursday evening it was approved in the Italian Senate.

– The only thing we aid organizations do is try to fill the gap left by the EU member states. Those we rescue are about 10 percent of those who arrive in Italy. So limiting our efforts will not affect the number of people leaving Libya. The only thing that will happen, says Juan Matias Gil, is more people dying.