The criminalisation of maritime rescuers and refugees must finally end!
Tomorrow, on 21 May 2022, the preliminary hearing of the case against the crew of the Iuventa will get underway in Trapani, Italy. Their purported crime? They saved more than 14,000 refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean.
For nearly five years, the four members of the maritime rescue organisation “Jugend Rettet” have been the subject of a criminal law investigation, along with 17 other accused members of the NGOs Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and an Italian ship owner; their vessel, the Iuventa, has also been held this entire time. The Italian public prosecutor’s office is accusing them of aiding and abetting illegal immigration. For this, the maritime rescuers now face a prison sentence of up to 20 years. What is at stake here is not only the future of these people, but also our community’s freedom and humanity.
With all of the attention that is focused on maritime rescuers such as the crew of the Iuventa, we must not forget that it is refugees themselves who are by far the most criminalised group. They leave their countries of origin in search of a safe haven for themselves and their families. Many of them face criminal prosecution in EU member states – if they survive the unbearable conditions in transit states such as Libya and the journey across the Mediterranean.
It cannot be said often enough that the right to flee and seek asylum is a human right that we as the Federal Government must respect, protect and comply with. Maritime rescue is indeed not a crime – but a humanitarian duty under international law.
I call for an end to the criminalisation of those seeking asylum and of the civil society actors who are dedicated to helping them. At the same time, we as the Federal Government must live up to our coalition agreement and advocate for a state-coordinated, European maritime rescue programme.