The UN expressed concern on Tuesday over a new law accepted by Italy's parliament against boats conducting rescue missions for refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.
"The UN Refugee Agency, is concerned about last night’s decision by the Italian Parliament to convert into law a security decree that imposes more severe penalties on boats and people conducting search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean," UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Charlie Yaxley was quoted as saying in a statement by the organization.
Yaxley said that under the legislation, fines for private vessels, which undertake human rescue efforts and do not respect the ban on migrants' entry into the country's territorial waters rose to a maximum of €1 million.
"In addition, vessels will now be automatically impounded," he added.
Yaxley said the UNHCR reiterated its concerns that imposing financial or other penalties on shipmasters could deter or impede sea rescue activities by private vessels at a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the central region of the Mediterranean.
"NGOs play an invaluable role in saving the lives of refugees and migrants attempting the dangerous sea crossing to Europe. The commitment and humanity that motivates their activities should not be criminalised or stigmatised," Yaxley stressed.
At least 426 migrants died in 2019 while making their way to Europe via the central Mediterranean route, according to data from the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).
A total of 30,510 migrants died between 2014 and 2018 while making the treacherous journey to Europe, IOM figures indicated in January.