Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Criminalising the rescuers

The Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms picked up 218 migrants who were in unsafe rubber boats in international waters off Libya's coast then took them to Sicily. The charity ignored a message from the Libyan coastguard claiming responsibility for taking in migrants in that stretch of sea. A Sicilian court impounded the boat and Italian authorities seized the ship  on the grounds that members of its crew had violated international agreements on handling migrants and helped illegal migration into Europe. Proactiva's lawyer dismissed the charges, and explained it did not know about any international agreement with Libya.

"Finally an Italian prosecutor who blocks human trafficking," Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy's anti-immigrant League said on Twitter, commenting on the court decision.

Proactiva released footage that it said showed a young boy sitting in his father's lap on its ship after the rescue. "He would have never forgiven us had we returned him to hell," Oscar Camps, the founder of Proactiva, said on Twitter. The United Nations has said migrants - hundreds of thousands of whom remain in Libya - face dire conditions there. Those who make the crossing tell of being extorted, beaten, tortured, raped, starved and forced to work for no pay. "In these situations, the priority is to save lives and that is what we did," Camps told reporters. "We have seen a campaign to delegitimise NGOs working in the Med. Today rescues have become criminal offence," Camps said. It is the second time Italy has seized a rescue vessel. A German ship, the Iuventa, was impounded in August on accusations it had aided illegal immigration. The group, Jugend Rettet, also denies the charges and is seeking to get the ship back.


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