This year alone, 2,385 men, women and children have died attempting to make the crossing to Europe, according to figures published by UNCHR in July.
In addition, the code would reduce the number of boats in the area, Hassiba Sahroui, a spokesperson for MSF who is based in Italy, said. She explained it can take up to 48-hours for a boat to return to port and disembark it’s passengers, during which period there would be stretches of waters without rescue ships nearby.
“This rule, which was not justified by operational practices, was in fact [about] just reducing the capacity at sea,” Sahroui told BuzzFeed News. “This idea was to reduce the capacity at sea.”
Amnesty International said in a statement that the code “put ties on the ability of NGOs to rescue people at sea, demonstrating just how misguided its whole approach is.” Last month, when the draft of the code was leaked, Amnesty spokesperson Colm O’Gorman said it “could put lives at risk”.
Another contentious point of the code is that rescuers will have police officers on board. MSF states they cannot do this — as a neutral party their only intention is to save lives. “We have nothing to hide, we are a humanitarian organization,” Sahroui said, “but we are being co-opted into becoming a branch of the police and the law enforcement agencies.”
Sahroui, who had had just three meetings with Italian authorities about the code, said they had repeatedly asked for guarantees that these enforcement officers would not enter the clinics, as well as medical confidentiality, but “the authorities were not able or willing to give such assurances”.
“We play by the rules and we respect the laws but our concerns, which were presented in a very constructive manner, were simply dismissed.”