Delrio says Mare Nostrum rescue program to continue

Govt overrides opposition to migrants assistance

16 May, 19:58

    (ANSAmed) - Rome, May 16 - Italy will continue its Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) rescue operation of migrants for humanitarian reasons, despite opposition, cabinet Undersecretary Graziano Delrio said Friday.

    "The government intends to continue...given the results from the humanitarian point of view," Delrio told the Lower House.

    He added that as many as 30,000 people have been rescued "that would probably have become victims of the sea".

    At the same time, Delrio said, the Italian government is stressing the importance of increasing cooperation with Middle Eastern and North African countries including Libya, from which many Europe-bound migrants come, to try to improve border controls. "This is not the problem of a single state, but a phenomenon that extends beyond the organizational skills and policies of a single nation," he said. As he spoke, opposition members of the Northern League held up signs proclaiming "Clandestine (migration) is a crime" and two League MPs were ejected from the Lower House for refusing to come to order.

    They loudly oppose the humanitarian Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue border operation which Italy began last October, after roughly 400 migrants drowned in two wrecks off the coast of Sicily.

    It involves 782 Italian Navy personnel aboard a flotilla of vessels supported by Carabinieri, Coast Guard, police and Air Force units.

    Already this year it has been involved in rescuing thousands of migrants, many fleeing war and poverty on rickety boats and rafts as more than 25,000 people arrived on Italian shores in the first four months of this year.

    Centre-right Forza Italia Senator Maurizio Gasparri called Mare Nostrum "disastrous" because he said it only helps criminal human smugglers who are taking advantage of the rescue opportunity.

    Delrio said that is not the government's intention, but it cannot turn its back on drowning migrants.

    "The government does not favor the smugglers, but preventing death is a duty not only of Italy, but throughout Europe," he said. "We cannot turn the other way while tragedies happen in our sea," said Delrio. The Italian government has been pressing the European Union to provide more support for rescuing, processing and housing the tens of thousands of migrants that arrive by sea in Italy, the closest point of land for most.

    "Europe explains everything about how to catch swordfish, but it turns its head when we go to rescue people in trouble", Premier Matteo Renzi said this week, after recent migrant boat disasters that cost at least 60 lives.

    Also this week, EU border-management agency Frontex said its budget has been cut this year, even as arrivals in Italy in the first four months of 2014 rose by a dizzying 823% over the same period in 2013.

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