Authorities in Italy have demanded the seizure of a humanitarian ship used to rescue migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, alleging that the ship improperly dumped contaminated and medical waste at port — a charge strongly rejected by the nonprofit groups that operate the ship.
Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) and SOS Mediterranee describe the seizure order as an attempt to criminalize humanitarian aid, saying the ship has always followed standard procedure for disposing waste. Italian authorities demanded that the ship, operated by Doctors without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, be seized on Tuesday.
The officials alleged that the migrants were carrying diseases* that could be transmitted through their discarded clothing, Reuters writes.
In a press conference, Gabriele Eminente, MSF‘s general director in Italy, expressed astonishment at the charges. He said that since 2015, his group has made more than 200 landings in Italy. “These are among the most controlled and closely watched moments by Italian police. We would have had to set up illegal activities right under the eyes of the authorities,” Eminente said. “We are absolutely surprised and indignant.”
The BBC notes that Italy’s populist government, which campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform, has had an antagonistic relationship with aid groups rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.
* Alleging that migrants or outsiders are bearing disease has a very long history, as a Stanford study notes, and Europeans in particular have long depicted Africa as dirty and diseased. Here in the U.S., Fox News recently claimed without evidence that a caravan of Central American migrants and asylum-seekers was bringing infectious diseases toward the U.S.