Italy drafts code on NGO migrant rescues as thousands more reach land

ROME (Reuters) - Italy will present a code of conduct next week to humanitarian groups that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, a government source said on Friday, as thousands more arrived at its southern ports.

More than 4,400 migrants were due to come ashore during the day after being picked up this week in the southern Mediterranean by rescue boats belonging to European Union and Italian authorities as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The Italian government, desperately trying to stem the flow, has drafted a set of rules for NGOs operating on the edge of Libyan territorial waters.

The 10-point code, published by Huffington Post’s Italian edition and confirmed by a government source, would oblige NGOs to prove their ability to carry out rescues, and forbid them to fire flares that could prompt smugglers to push their boats out to sea.

It would also oblige rescue organizations to stop transferring migrants to other ships and instead complete their disembarkation in a safe port themselves, which would limit their operations.

If any of the roughly nine NGOs that regularly deploy boats refuses to sign up, it could be barred from Italian ports, meaning it would have to take the migrants to other countries.

Italy is organizing a meeting with the NGOs next week to present the finalised code, the source said.

After Italian and EU officials discussed the issue in Brussels on Thursday, an official said the EU Commission was worried about the risk of accidents in and around Libyan waters, and happy that Italy was working on a code.

As of July 13, some 86,123 migrants had come to Italy this year, up 10 percent on the same period last year, according to the interior ministry.

While NGOs have said the planned rules will make it more difficult to help migrants fleeing poverty and war, a United Nations spokeswoman said Italy needed more help dealing with the crisis.

“Basically, in Italy we need more solidarity from the rest of the European Union. In Libya we need more stability, but we also need, across all of Africa, better investment in order to help people (there),” said Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

Besides 1,428 newcomers who arrived in the Sicilian port of Catania, a further 3,000 were due to arrive in the mainland ports of Salerno, Brindisi and Crotone.

Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Editing by Kevin Liffey