A total of 24 search and rescue workers are investigated for aiding and abetting illegal immigration to Italy. Ten of those were crew members aboard the rescue ship IUVENTA.
The seizure of the vessel IUVENTA last year came amid a protracted media war against NGOs that formed the cornerstone of election campaigns run by the Italian right-wing parties.
The notice of the official investigation came in June 2018, shortly after the election of those parties to office, and following a decision to shut off Italian ports to ships carrying rescued migrants. The newly instated Minister of Interior, Matteo Salvini of the far-right party Lega, has repeatedly called for the seizure of all NGO rescue vessels – in brazen violation of international law – and the prosecution of their crews.
If we have to answer in court for having saved these people, Europe has reached political and moral rock bottom. Should it prove a crime to save lives, then I remain on the right side of the dock.Kathrin Schmidt
What we did in fact, between July 2016 and August 2017 – the timeframe of concern for this investigation – was to rescue and render assistance to over 14,000 people in distress at sea. We are now facing up to 20 years in prison.
We do not accept people disappearing unnoticed in the Mediterranean mass grave. We were eyewitnesses, reporters and safe harbour for tens of thousands of people on the move.
All people in the focus of the prosecutor were either directly involved in the rescues of people on and in the water or coordinating rescue operations.
These operations were at all times authorized and coordinated exclusively by the responsible MRCC in Rome (Maritime Rescue Coordination Center). The IUVENTA crews have always operated in strict compliance with International and Maritime Law. By using Italian Antimafia law to form the legal grounds against us, the prosecutor is attempting to overwrite both International Law and the Geneva Convention.
What lies ahead of us is a marathon – not a sprint. We expect the legal proceedings to last between 3 and 4 years and legal costs to sum up to €500,000.
We solidarians – representatives of civil society – are a remaining tear in the fabric of fortress Europe.
Our mere presence constitutes a threat to be obliterated. In the course of 2018 accusations of smuggling have been brought up against volunteers in Lesvos, Tunisian fishermen, Italian mayors, French farmers, Eritrean priests and 24 rescue workers of four NGOs. Precedingly between 2015 and 2017 a total of 26 legal cases resulting from acts of solidarity, which involved so far 45 people from all over Europe, were reported by the Institute of Race Relations.
The core injustice we are hereby raising does not merely concern the criminalization of European citizens and NGOs. Much more importantly, we are raising our voice on behalf of those less privileged, who continue to die every day as they try to reach safety at European shores. It does not stand to us to question their reasons for seeking shelter while their lives are in imminent danger.
It was and remains our all responsibility to save human lives wherever possible, to provide shelter where needed and to treat every human being with dignity and with respect for human rights.