Italy wants rescue ships to land migrants in home nations

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Valletta, Malta.

Italy wants to amend an EU pact on migration to force charity ships rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean to disembark them in their own countries, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Friday.

According to Italian media reports, interior ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday rejected the amendment during talks on handling asylum seekers and irregular migrants entering the EU.

Meloni outlined the idea to reporters at the meeting of European leaders in Malta on Friday.

Rome proposed that “the country responsible for the reception of migrants who are transported on the ship of a non-governmental organisation is the country of the flag of the ship of the non-governmental organisation”, she said.

Italy’s proposal followed an amendment by Germany that Rome considered a “step backwards” on NGOs, she said.

The talks were behind closed doors, but Italy’s right-wing government has sought to have the EU treat migrant rescue ships like people-smugglers — or like countries that have pushed migration flows towards Europe as a tactic known as “instrumentalisation”.

Reports suggest this attempt has failed.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said only on Thursday that “the concept of instrumentalisation was defined more narrowly”.

Italy said it needed more time to study the latest text put forward in Brussels, although the EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said it was expected to be formally agreed “in a few days”.

Last weekend, Meloni complained in a letter to Germany’s Olaf Scholz about Berlin’s funding for charities helping migrants, including rescue ships.

In Malta, she said that the two leaders had spoken Thursday.

Her foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, had previously claimed that German-flagged NGO ships were in the waters around the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday.

A surge in boat landings earlier this month on Lampedusa, located not far from the coast of Tunisia, trigged fresh debate across Europe over how to share the burden of migrant arrivals.

After a pause attributed to bad weather, migrants began arriving again on Lampedusa on Friday, beginning with a small boat carrying more than a dozen Tunisians, media reports said.

More than 130,000 migrants have landed on Italy’s shores so far this year, almost double the number last year, according to interior ministry figures.

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