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‘The real crime is the EU’s border regime’, activists say as refugees and rescue workers prepare to go to court

The duty to save lives at sea is being put on trial’, Amnesty International warns ahead of Iuventa pretrial. Meanwhile, 500 survivors on the Geo Barents still wait for dry land

TWO refugees and 21 rescue workers are due to appear in court this week charged with people smuggling, but the real crime is the EU’s border regime, activists and human rights groups said today.

The first trial is due to begin on Thursday in Kalamata, Greece. Two men who crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey last May with around 180 others have been charged with human trafficking because, according to the authorities, they drove the vessel.

“This is yet another story that shows the systematic attacks on people’s freedom by the Greek state,” reads a joint statement put out today by the refugee rescue and support groups.

“[The] Greek authorities systematically criminalise people on the move,” Aegean Migrant Solidarity, Borderline-Europe, Can’t Evict Solidarity, Iuventa, Legal Centre Lesvos and Alarm Phone say in the statement.

“For most boats that arrive in Greece, several people are arrested and afterwards legally prosecuted for steering the boat or for helping in other ways during the journey.

“Without sufficient evidence, people are usually arrested upon arrival and kept in pre-trial detention for months. When their case finally comes to court, their trials average only 38 minutes in length, leading to an average sentence of 44 years and fines over €370,000.

“To us it is clear: boat driving and crossing borders can never be a crime. It’s a fundamental right, and one we will continue to uphold and support. The real crime is the border regime put in place by the EU and its partners along the different migration routes.”

Meanwhile, in Italy on Saturday, the Court of Trapani will begin preliminary hearings against four former members of the refugee rescue ship Iuventa, and 17 others from Save The Children, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an Italian shipping company.

Kathrin Schmidt, Dariush Beigui, Sascha Girke and Uli Tröder, saved the lives of over 14,000 people in the central Mediterranean aboard the Iuventa between 2016 and 2017.

Trapani’s Prosecutor’s Office seized the ship in August 2017, following a controversial investigation which involved undercover operatives, wiretapping and surveillance of the crew, journalists, lawyers and even members of the clergy.

“The case against these rescue workers must be dismissed, and all charges dropped,” Amnesty International’s regional researcher Elisa De Pieri said today.

“Time and again, prosecutors have tried to criminalise people and organisations who saved lives after stepping into the void left by governments,” she said.

“So far, most prosecutions in Europe have ended in acquittal or were quashed by courts, but it is scandalous that rescue workers have ended up in courtrooms at all.

“This case goes beyond the Iuventa — in effect, the duty to save lives at sea is being put on trial. The prosecution’s argument that those rescued were not in imminent danger is alarming and could have disastrous consequences for the thousands of people who are rescued at sea every year.”

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, close to 500 people on MSF’s rescue ship Geo Barents are still waiting for the Italian authorities to allow them to come ashore.

“Last week we rescued 470 people from seven boats in distress in the SAR [search-and-rescue] zones of Libya and Malta, over the course of three intense days,” MSF said on Monday.

“Five days later, the Italian authorities haven’t yet assigned a safe place to disembark, despite our seven requests.

“Two of these rescues took place in the Maltese SAR zone. We are appalled by the fact that [Armed Forces Malta], the primary responsible for rescues in this zone, were informed but remained silent and inactive, neglecting their legal obligation to provide or coordinate assistance.”

However, the Sea-Watch 4 — which has been carrying 145 rescued refugees for close to two week — was finally given permission to port in Augusta on the Italian island of Sicily on Monday night.

On Sunday, the Sea-Eye 4 disembarked 58 shipwreck survivors in Pozzallo, Sicily, a week after its first rescue.

Top image shows a fence [Pic: Jannik Kiel]

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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