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Italy shuts Mineo migrant camp and tightens sea rules

Migrants are picked up by the Aquarius on 9 June 2018Image copyright KARPOV/SOS MEDITERRANEE
Image caption When Italy’s populist government took office last June they closed ports to rescued migrants

Italy’s cabinet has passed an emergency decree targeting migrant rescue boats.

The decree will levy fines between €10,000 (£8,900; $11,300) and €50,000 on ships entering Italian waters without permission.

The decision came hours before right-wing interior minister Matteo Salvini announced the closure of a reception centre for asylum seekers in Sicily.

Since the populist government took power a year ago, Mr Salvini has tried to stop migrants reaching Italy.

Ports have been closed to rescue boats.

Now Italy’s ruling League and Five Star parties want to stop NGO boats entering Italian waters.

The draft bill explicitly referred to migrant rescue boats the reference was removed following an intervention by President Sergio Mattarella. The effect on the migrant boats is the same however.

The bill still has to go before parliament, where the ruling coalition has a majority.

Two charities said on Wednesday that since Italy refused entry to hundreds of migrants on the Aquarius rescue boat a year ago, 1,151 people had drowned in the Mediterranean and more than 10,000 others had been forced to return to face danger in Libya.

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MSF and SOS Mediterranee said migrants were now almost four times more likely to die compared with last year.

“The lack of humanitarian vessels in the Central Mediterranean during this period should put to rest the unfounded allegation of a ‘pull factor’,” said Frédéric Penard of SOS Mediterranee.

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Media captionWomen and children are being held in camps close to fierce fighting in Libya

The decision to close the Mineo asylum camp in Sicily came after the number of asylum seekers there declined from 2,526 a year ago to 152, Italy’s Ansa news agency reported.

Mr Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party, said that the policy of closing ports had already brought about the closure of other big migrant centres and “now it’s Mineo’s turn, which we will close in July”.

He said the closure was “good news” for residents, citing the murder of an elderly couple in 2015 at the hands of an Ivorian teenager who had been living in the camp.

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