Migrants picked up at sea by rescue ships must be sent to the countries that support the NGO charities, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Friday, demanding that an EU migration pact be redrafted.
His comments came after Berlin confirmed this week that it was financially supporting three German non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate in the Mediterranean and regularly bring migrants to Italy.
The news angered Italy’s government, which is struggling to deal with a sharp increase in migrants flows since it took office a year ago and accuses the charities of encouraging people to make the dangerous crossing — something they deny.
European Union interior ministers unexpectedly failed to agree a new migration pact on Thursday after Rome said it needed more time to review the text.
“We want to make a deal for a new pact. The NGOs flying a German flag or that of another country should pick up the migrants and take them to their countries,” Tajani told state television RAI.
Italy has taken in 133,170 boat migrants so far this year against 70,796 in the same period of 2022, embarrassing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni who took power vowing to stem the flow of new arrivals from north Africa.
Her coalition accuses charity ships of acting as a de-facto taxi service for migrants and it introduced legislation this year to restrict their operations. The NGOs say they have picked up only around 5 per cent of all those who have sought to reach Italy in 2023, adding that their sole purpose is to save lives.
Italy has clashed in the past with its European allies over the charity ships, including a major falling out with France last November when it refused to let a ship operated by a French NGO bring 230 people ashore.
The boat eventually brought the migrants directly to France.
Earlier this week, Meloni wrote to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz telling him she had learned with “astonishment” of the German move to finance the charity groups. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock met Tajani on Thursday and defended the decision, saying the groups were saving lives.