Italy’s government wins confidence vote on decree targeting migrant rescue ships

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The Italian government won a parliamentary confidence vote on a security and immigration decree, a victory for Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the far-right League party.

The government, riven by recent internal strife, won the vote by 325 to 248. It would have had to stand down had it lost the motion.

The decree was drawn up by Salvini, who also serves as deputy prime minister, and toughens sanctions on charity ships wanting to bring migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to Italy.

The bill now moves to the upper house Senate for final approval expected before mid-August.

The decree hikes maximum fines for charity ships entering Italian waters without authorisation to a million euro (£892,039) from a previous 50,000 euros. It also sanctions arrest of captains who ignore orders to stay away and calls on naval authorities to automatically seize vessels.

The new measures will replace rules introduced in June and immediately challenged by a number of charities, including the German vessel Sea-Watch, captained by Carola Rackete.

The Sea-Watch was seized when it entered Lampedusa without permission in June. Salvini was furious when the charity raised more than a million euros via Internet appeals in the days following the high-profile case.

He was further incensed when an Italian judge released Rackete from house arrest, ruling she had not endangered life by defying a naval blockade to reach port.

By calling a confidence vote on the decree, government forced legislation through the house, truncating debate and doing away with opposition amendments.

Salvini’s popularity soared on the back of his anti-migrant position, with an opinion poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper putting the League at 35.9%, more than double last year’s national vote.

His policies led to a sharp decline in migrant arrivals with only 3,431 crossing the Mediterranean so far in 2019, according to official data, down 81% on the same period in 2018 and down 96% on 2017 levels.