Migrant campaign ship confronts Italy in the Mediterranean

The rescue boat Mare Jonio seeks to shed light on the human cost of policies adopted by the populist Italian government

A rescuer carries a migrant child, intercepted off the coast in the Mediterranean Sea, after arriving on a rescue boat at the port of Malaga, southern Spain, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
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A Mediterranean coalition of campaigners against Italy’s hardline migration policies have bought a ship in a crowdfunding appeal to shame authorities into rescuing stranded migrants off the North African coast.

The group, Mediterranea Saving Humans, raised more than 250,000 euros in three weeks, to buy and launch the Italian-flagged Mare Jonio to raise the alarm about migrant boats in distress in the Mediterranean Sea.

Its first mission launched on October 4 from the southern Italian island of Sicily and succeeded in pressuring the Italian Coast guard into rescuing 70 people aboard a dinghy eight days later, according to the group.

“The presence of Mediterranea was fundamental in raising attention to what is really happening in the waters south of Sicily and to prevent our governments from turning their backs to tragedies that call upon human compassion,” the group wrote on its website.


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A second mission aimed at “monitoring and denouncing” the inaction of the Italian coastguard in the face of migrants in need of rescue was launched on Thursday.

It aims to respond to a crackdown on migrant rescue ships in July by Italy’s deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who has repeatedly accused NGOs of providing a “taxi service” for migrants.

“Good news, listen up! A ship organised by NGOs is going to roam the Mediterranean looking for migrants that want to come to our shores,” he wrote on his Facebook page in response to initiative. “They can do what they want, go where they want, but for them to come to Italy… never!”

The last migrant rescue ship operating in the area, the Aquarius, saw its Panamanian flag revoked in September following alleged pressure from the Italian government.

According to NGOs, the EU's policy of aiding Libyan authorities to intercept migrants and return them to detention is "inhuman".

Nearly 2,000 migrants have lost their lives so far this year attempting to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The campaign ship is an initiative by Spanish, German and Italian NGOs, backed by a left-wing politicians and artists.

Erasmo Palazzotto, a parliamentarian and one of the initiators of Mediterranea’s mission, said the group was backed by “thousands of people… to save our humanity”.

“We are the only ones left, but we are not alone,” he wrote on Twitter