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Italian Rear Admiral Nicola De Felice (right) with other MARCOM commanders at a NATO press conference, 2016. Facebook
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‘Migrant rescue encourage more dangerous crossings, violate a host of laws’

Migrant rescue ships only encourage more dangerous crossing attempts and violate a host of laws, argued retired Italian Rear Admiral Nicola De Felice who headed the Italian naval command in Sicily in the years 2015-2018 at the height of the migrant crisis.

Published: February 3, 2021, 11:35 am

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    He denounced European NGOs which “cooperate with human traffickers and violate international law at sea”, according to his statements, relayed by the Central European news site Remix.

    In an article published on January 5, De Felice reacted to the arrival of 265 “paid shipwreck victims” on board the vessel of the Spanish NGO Open Arms in the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocle. “Once again, the blackmail of showing a few minors on board the ship has aroused a solidarity – hypocritical and benevolent – from the weak Italian government which, despite the problems associated with the pandemic and the difficulties that the Italian people must face, keeps their ports open, thus encouraging the uncontrolled influx of illegal immigrants.”

    NGOs like Activa Open Arms (Spain) not only encourage human trafficking and help increase the number of drowning deaths, explained the former head of the navy command in Sicily, but they also violated all international laws concerning rescue at sea, including the Hamburg Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue. In fact, they never asked the competent country, which is not Italy, to indicate to them the nearest “place of safety”, like the Tunisian ports. These ports were full of cruise ships filled with insouciant Europeans facing no danger whatsoever before the Corona pandemic, noted the Rear Admiral.

    According to the admiral of the Italian navy, stopping illegal immigration on the central Mediterranean route would be possible if Germany, France and Italy were willing to act together to put an end to this.

    Last September, the former admiral wrote a letter to the ambassadors of Spain and Germany in Italy denouncing a de facto cooperation between the Spanish ship Open Arms and the German ship Sea-Watch – which he called “slave ships” – with criminal gangs of human traffickers in North Africa. His letter was never answered, however.

    “As they approach the Libyan coast, NGO ships contribute to the pull factor that prompts human traffickers to boost their criminal activities and send boats full of illegal immigrants in their direction. The Bengalis, who are the second most numerous ethnic group to disembark in Italy in 2020, pay up to 30 000 euros per person to board ships. The NGOs thus become indirectly complicit in the trafficking of human beings, which creates more and more victims at sea.”

    NGOs also violate other international and European standards, such as Article 13 of the Dublin Regulation, according to which the flag state of the vessel (in this case Spain) must take responsibility for international protection and asylum requests from “rescued” migrants.

    Without the will to act together, the European IRINI operation with navy ships patrolling the Libyan coast to enforce the UN arms embargo is just another pull factor operating in the same way as NGO ships. “The operation could do a lot more, but it is not authorized to fight traffickers in Libyan territorial waters,” De Felice lamented in an interview for the French site Breizh Info earlier.

    In an interview with El Correo de España in November last year, De Felipe denounced the destructive role played by the Spanish autonomous region of Valencia, ruled by the same type of coalition of socialists with the far left as at the national level – and by the port city of Burriana which has provided a base for the operation of five NGO ships in the central Mediterranean: the Alan Kurdi, the Open Arms, the Sea-Watch 3, the Sea-Watch 4 and the Louise Michel.

    In the same interview, the former head of the Italian navy command in Sicily insisted on the need to “convince African governments to cooperate […] in particular by resorting to mass repatriation by sea, moral persuasion, pressure economics, trade restrictions and military cooperation”.

    “The EU, instead of inventing inconclusive naval operations, should have a joint Euro-Libyan/Euro-Tunisian surveillance and patrol activity in Libyan and Tunisian territorial waters in order to block boats before they leave African soil,” concluded De Felice in his article published on January 5. “And they should do so before it is too late for our beautiful Europe.”

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