The criminalization of maritime rescuers and refugees must finally stop!
Tomorrow, May 21, 2022, the preliminary hearing of the case against the Iuventa crew will begin in Trapani, Italy. Their alleged crime? They saved more than 14,000 refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean.
For almost five years, the four members of the maritime rescue organization “Jugend Rettetwere the subject of a criminal investigation, along with 17 other accused members of the NGOs Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and an Italian shipowner; their ship, the Iuventa, was also held up throughout this time. The Italian prosecutor’s office accuses them of having aided and abetted illegal immigration. For this, maritime rescuers now risk a prison sentence of up to 20 years. What is at stake here is not only the future of these people, but also the freedom and humanity of our community.
With all the attention given to maritime rescuers like the crew of the Iuventa, it should not be forgotten that it is the refugees themselves who are by far the most criminalized group. They leave their country of origin in search of a safe haven for themselves and their family. Many of them face criminal charges in EU Member States – if they survive the unbearable conditions in transit states like Libya and the journey across the Mediterranean.
It cannot be repeated enough that the right to flee and seek asylum is a human right that we, as the federal government, must respect, protect and uphold. Maritime salvage is indeed not a crime, but a humanitarian duty under international law.
I call for an end to the criminalization of asylum seekers and civil society actors dedicated to helping them. At the same time, we as the federal government must respect our coalition agreement and advocate for a state-coordinated European maritime rescue program.