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Italy grounds two migrant rescue planes documenting human rights violations

Refugees are seen after being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea on 15 June 2017 [Marcus Drinkwater/Anadolu Agency]
Refugees are seen after being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea on 15 June 2017 [Marcus Drinkwater/Anadolu Agency]

Italy has grounded two planes used to rescue migrant boats in the Mediterranean as the country's far-right interior minister continues his hard-line stance against migrants.

ENAC has confirmed it has grounded two aircrafts operated by the German NGO Sea-Watch and the French NGO Pilotes Volontaires, Moonbird and Colibri, on the grounds they are approved for recreational not professional use.

Sea-Watch has said the decision is political and in breach of international law.

"One reason our missions are so important, and the reason the European Union tries to stop us by any means necessary, is that it is annoying for them that there are eyes at sea that bring up their human rights violations, that are coming up again and again," said spokesman Ruben Neugebauer.

The planes document human rights violations by ships who don't respond to rescue calls and EU deployed aircraft that alert migrant boats are present, which are then sent back to Libya.

READ: 5 migrants die, 65 others rescued off Libyan coast

In May an air strike killed more than 50 refugees in a detention centre in Libya which ignited a fresh debate on conditions for refugees in the North African country, where migrants are beaten and forced into labour. Aid workers and rights groups appeal repeatedly against the return of migrants by Libya's EU-backed coastguard.

Despite this Italian Interior Minister and leader of the right-wing League Party Matteo Salvini has vowed to end Italy's reputation as "the refugee camp of Europe" and has closed Italian ports to rescue boats and authorised €1 million fines ($1.1 million) for vessels that illegally enter Italian waters and dock without permission.

Earlier this month he failed to give permission to the Spanish NGO boat the Open Arms to dock in Lampedusa which waited at sea for days with 147 migrants on board.

A court in Rome eventually overruled Salvini's ban.

On Tuesday Salvini banned a German ship carrying migrants rescued off the coast of Libya from docking in Italy.

Rights groups have repeatedly expressed concern that refusing to let migrant boats land is potentially dangerous if they are in urgent need of food, water or medicine.

On Monday head of MSF in Spain warned against "the criminalisation of solidarity" and the "politicisation of humanitarian action."

READ: Captain of migrant rescue ship declines Paris honour

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