Italian coastguard expresses unease as government closes ports to migrants

Many people trying to reach Europe are desperate not to go back to Libya as they potentially face abuse and rape in detention centres

Rome: The decision by Italy’s new populist government to close the country’s ports to migrants saved at sea is causing unease within the heart of the Italian coastguard, some staff say, who until recently played a key role in rescue missions.


Over the last decade, the coastguard has coordinated the rescue of hundreds of thousands of migrants off the coast of Libya, in many cases pulling them from the water themselves in treacherous conditions.

But as of June, they have been ordered to transfer calls for help and reports of boats in distress to the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Now — despite a culture of traditionally not criticising government policy — a handful of coastguard staff have spoken out.

In an interview with Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore last week, a coastguard admiral criticised the government and in particular far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini’s new hardline stance.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the admiral recalled that the Italian justice system had deemed Libya was not a “safe place” for rescued people to returned to.

Many migrants trying to reach Europe are desperate not to go back to Libya as they potentially face abuse and rape in detention centres.

The admiral also denounced the absence of an official decree or act regarding the decision to close the country’s ports to vessels carrying migrants.

In recent weeks, the policy has left the coastguard powerless as several ships with rescued migrants aboard spent days stranded in the Mediterranean unable to dock in Italy.

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