GENEVA, June 12 (Xinhua) -- The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, on Wednesday said it is concerned at a proposed decree in Italy affecting Central Mediterranean sea rescue, and it has asked the country's government to reconsider its proposal.
"UNHCR is concerned at a recent decree from the Government of Italy that contains several provisions affecting refugees and migrants, including fines for NGO vessels engaged in saving lives at sea," said the refugee agency.
It said that sea rescue is a long-standing humanitarian imperative.
"It is also an obligation under international law. No vessel or shipmaster should be at risk of a fine for coming to the aid of boats in distress and where the loss of life may be imminent," said UNHCR in a statement here.
"At a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean, NGO vessels are more crucial than ever," UNHCR quoted Roland Schilling, its current representative to Southern Europe as saying.
"Without them, it is inevitable that more lives will be lost."
The UN agency said it is also of concern that the decree may result in shipmasters being penalized for refusing to disembark rescued people in Libya where a conflict is raging.
"In light of the extremely volatile security situation, widespread reports of human rights violations and routine use of detention for people rescued or intercepted at sea, no one should be returned to Libya," said UNHCR.
UNHCR said it had stated repeatedly its view that robust search and rescue capacity, particularly in the Central Mediterranean, needs to be coupled with a regional mechanism allowing quick, predictable and safe disembarkation.
Responsibility for rescued refugees and migrants needs to be shared among different countries, not left to one or two, said the UN agency.