ITALY LAUNCHES CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION AGAINST RESCUERS Berlin, 28.07.2018
Almost one year following the seizure of the rescue ship Iuventa of the organisation Jugend Rettet, the Italian prosecutor in Trapani has officially initiated investigations into 22 individuals for allegedly favoring illegal immigration to Italy while conducting rescue operations in the central Mediteranean Sea off the Libyan coast. Amongst those investigated are ten crew members of the Iuventa. The charge carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
The Iuventa crew rejects the baseless allegations brought against it and condemns Europe’s efforts to criminalize rescuers. In doing so, the EU may have removed the last organized force committed to protecting the lives of migrants at sea. „Being investigated and may having to stand trial for saving lives at sea, makes me feel like Europe has hit a political and moral rock bottom. Should it ever become applicable law to leave people to die a preventable death, I consider myself in the right side of the dock.“ Kathrin Schmidt, head of mission / Iuventa
Since July 2016, the Iuventa had rendered assistance to over 14,000 migrants in distress under the authority of the Rome Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, in strict compliance with international and maritime law. However, the police dossier provided to the crew at the ship’s seizure, on 2nd August 2017, revealed that the Iuventa had for months been at the center of an extensive surveillance operation that drew in multiple law enforcement agencies including undercover operatives and which had authorized police agents to bug the ship’s bridge and crewmembers’ mobile devices.
The seizure of the vessel last year came amid a protracted media war against NGOs that formed the cornerstone of election campaigns run by the Italian right wing. Recent notice of the official investigation from 21.06.2018 comes shortly after the election of those parties to office and following an executive decision to shut off Italian ports to ships carrying rescued migrants. The newly instated Minister of Interior, Matteo Salvini of the far-right Lega, has repeatedly called for the seizure of all NGO rescue vessels and the arrest of their crews. Meanwhile, as three other NGO rescue ships remain frozen indefinitely in the Maltese port of Valletta and two reconnaissance aircrafts are denied permission to launch, the death toll of migrants braving the crossing from Libya has risen dramatically.
As the European Union continues to shirk from providing a response to migrant deaths in compliance with international law and human rights, it becomes increasingly clear that the criminalization of the civil fleet constitutes part of an engineered effort to hoist responsibility to turn the Mediterranean into a deadly sea, and to grant the Libyan Coast Guard inordinate power over people attempting to flee its shores. „I am appalled to see this huge machinery working against the saving of lifes at sea, rather than an uproar against failed EU politics and the thousands of unnecessary deaths it continues to cause. It is absurd to turn the efforts of civilians to uphold international law and human rights into a criminal act.“ Pia Klemp, captain/ Iuventa and Sea-Watch3
This investigation and related measures have already caused countless deaths – deaths that could have been avoided had the Iuventa and other rescue ships remained free to operate. Those who have committed themselves to rescuing lives may have to stand trial for providing the most basic of human rights which the European Union has thus far been reluctant to respect.
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