Pressure Growing on NGO Ships Colluding With People Smugglers as Renzi Demands Punishment

Former Italian Matteo Renzi addresses the press while campaigning for the Italian Democratic Party leadership, in Brussels on April 28,2017. Renzi decided to finish his campaign for the leadership of the Italian Democratic Party in Brussels to demonstrate his commitment towards the European Union. / AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND …

Italian former prime minister Matteo Renzi has demanded penalties for NGOs shown to be cooperating with people smugglers after NGO Jugend Rettet had their ship confiscated by the government on suspicion of collusion with smugglers.

The former Italian Prime Minister, who heads the Democratic Party (PD) voiced his support for the Italian government’s increased pressure of migrant rescue NGOs operating in the Mediterranean. “Those who do not respect the rules must be strictly punished,” Renzi said in an interview with an Italian broadcaster Friday Die Presse reports.

The Italian government put forth a code of conduct for the NGOs to agree to which included transparency of their funding and would see the government exercise more oversight over the organization’s operations. Two NGOs refused to sign the agreement including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and a German NGO called Jugend Rettet.

Earlier this week the vessel of Jugend Rettet, the “Iuventa,” was arrested by the Italian coastguard and confiscated after suspicions of collusion with people smugglers. Jugend Rettet demanded their vessel back Friday with their lawyer Leonardo Marino submitting an application to have the Iuventa returned.

Interior Minister Marco Minniti stepped up the pressure on the NGOs saying that those who don’t abide by the code of conduct will be unable to carry on their operations.

Support for the Italian government’s position has also come from  European Union Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos who said, “I regret the fact that some private marine groups have not signed the Code of Conduct. We must work together to fight trafficking in human beings.”

“It is important to establish common rules for cooperation on refugee rescue in the Mediterranean,” he added.

Several left-wing German organizations and politicians have been deeply critical of the new Italian policy and Italy’s pledge to help the Libyan coast guard combat smugglers and turn boats back to Libya.

Left-wing politician Ulla Jelpke, of the Left Party, said that the arrest of the Jugend Rettet vessel was a “cheap and transparent extortionary manoeuvre,” and called for its release. The left-wing German Green party also slammed the Italians claiming there was no evidence of collusion with people smugglers.

So far this year over 100,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean into Italy, often aided by migrant rescue NGOs. the number of migrants who have drowned or died during the voyage has also grown as reports in March claimed that drownings had increased by 42 percent in 2017.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at) 


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