Italy aids those in difficulty at sea and wants to save boat migrants' lives, foreign minister Antonio Tajani claimed on Wednesday ahead of a parliamentary vote on a government decree that restricts the operations of charity rescue ships in the Mediterranean.
"This is a text that sets out rules that all must abide by, there is no hostility towards NGOsand no doubt that we must rescue people at sea," Tajani stated.
"But sea rescues are one thing and (water) taxis are another," Tajani said.
Italy's right alleges that NGO rescue ships act as a 'magnet' for the people smuggling gangs who organise migrant boat crossings in the Mediterranean - claims denied by charities and rights groups.
The overwhelming majority of sea rescues in the Mediterranean are carried out by Italy's coastguard and finance police vessels, not NGO ships, Tajani underlined.
"The Italian state helps and saves all those who are in difficulty. We are working to prevent the Mediterranean being a migrant cemetery and are trying to make deals with the countries people depart from to prevent migration being run by people traffickers," he said.
Charities, Italy's Catholic Church and the Council of Europe watchdog have criticised the NGO decree, which orders charity ships to only perform one rescue at a time and to sail "without delay" to an assigned port - frequently located in increasingly distant regions of Italy.
A court in the Sicilian city of Catania on 6 February ruled that a previous government decree imposed by Italy's conservative government in November was unlawful. The decree allows only the most vulnerable migrants to disembark from a rescue ship.
Premier Giorgia Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy party and its allies have vowed to stop tens of thousands of migrants landing on Italy's shores each year.