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Norway insists Italy is responsible for people stranded on NGO boats

The Norwegian government says it is not responsible for refugees and migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea aboard ships flying the country’s national flag, after Italy asked Norway and Germany to take care of nearly 1,000 people stranded off the Norwegian coast. their shores and awaiting permission to dock.

Italy’s new right-wing government has remained silent in the face of repeated requests by rescue groups to provide a safe harbour, effectively blocking three charity vessels at sea: the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking and Geo Barents, and the Norwegian-flagged Humanity 1. German flag, for more than a week.

Last week, Rome sent letters to the Norwegian and German embassies, saying NGO ships flying its flags were not following European security standards and were undermining what it described as the fight against undocumented immigration.

In its response, Norway said that “the primary responsibility for coordinating work to ensure a safe harbor for those in distress at sea rests with the state responsible for the search and rescue area where such assistance has been provided.”

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Ambassador Johan Vibe said in a statement emailed to Reuters that “Norway bears no responsibility under human rights conventions or the law of the sea for people taken aboard Norwegian-flagged private vessels in the Mediterranean.” .

Ocean Viking and Geo Barents have more than 800 people on board and are sailing off Sicily, while Humanity 1 has 179 people, including more than 100 unaccompanied minors and a seven-month-old baby with his mother.

Petra Krischok, a press officer aboard Humanity 1, said people were sleeping on deck and could soon face rough seas after days of fine weather. More than a quarter of the group had been sick with flu-like symptoms, she added.

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Meanwhile, Italian authorities continue to allow the arrival of people rescued by Italian patrols, including 456 who arrived in Calabria on Thursday.

Italy last month formed its first far-right-led government since the end of World War II, with Giorgia Meloni becoming the first woman to serve as prime minister.

Known for her incendiary nationalism, Meloni said during her first visit to the European Union headquarters on Thursday that “the priority for us becomes a priority that is already provided for in European regulations, which is the defense of external borders.” .

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Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, told local media that the government intended to give flag countries an “immediate signal”.

“We cannot bear the burden of migrants picked up at sea by foreign ships that systematically operate without any coordination with local authorities,” he said.

Piantedosi drafted new measures alleging that non-governmental groups violated procedure by failing to properly coordinate their rescues, a step that lays the groundwork for Italy to close ports.

The charities have denied circumventing the procedures and say it is their duty to rescue people in distress at sea.

‘Let the ship come in’

According to the United Nations refugee agency, coastal states are required to accept people from rescue ships “as soon as possible” and governments must cooperate to provide a safe haven for survivors.

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The German embassy on Wednesday urged Italy to provide swift aid, saying the NGO ships had made an important contribution to saving lives at sea.

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Separately, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Friday that international law makes it clear that Italy, as the nearest port, “must let the ship in.”

Darmanin said France and Germany have told the Italian government that they are both ready to receive some of the people so that Italy doesn’t “just carry the load.”

On Thursday, the charity SOS Mediterranee, which operates the Ocean Viking, said it had asked Greece, Spain and France for help, as Italy and Malta had not responded to its berthing requests.

“Keeping survivors on board ships hostage to political debate any longer would be the result of a dramatic failure by European member and associated states,” Xavier Lauth, director of operations at SOS Mediterranee, said in a statement.

More than 6,200 people have arrived in Italy since Oct. 27, government data shows, compared with 1,400 in the same period in 2021.

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