THE legal persecution of a sea rescue charity represents “the great inversion of justice in Europe”, a major progressive coalition has said.
Mediterranea Saving Humans, an Italian civil society platform which rescues those who risk dying in the Central Mediterranean, were charged with “facilitating illegal immigration” by the public prosecutor’s office in the Sicilian region of Ragusa last month.
The charges relate to the organisation’s own rescue ship, the Mare Jonio, and a commercial vessel operated by Danish firm Maersk, which rescued 27 people near Malta last August.
The island’s authorities subsequently refused to allow the ship to enter its waters, meaning it eventually needed the assistance of the Mare Jonio.
Both Mediterranea and Maersk reject any claims that there was a “commercial” agreement between the two ships during the incident.
David Adler, General Coordinator of Progressive International, told Redaction Politics: “The prosecution of Mediterranea Savings Humans marks the great inversion of justice in Europe.
“Instead of investigating agencies like Frontex that are directly responsible for the deaths of migrants on the Mediterranean, the Office of Public Prosecutor of Ragusa is investigating the humanitarian organization that has dared to save them. Mediterranea Savings Humans is not alone.
“This case is simply the next step in a continental campaign to criminalize humanitarian efforts in Europe and harden its borders against families seeking asylum from war, perscution, and poverty abroad. This campaign is illegal, it is humane, and it is ineffective.
“The stain on the conscience of Europe will last a lifetime.”
Mediterranea Saving Humans has also received backing from around the world, including support from Cornel West and Naomi Klein.
Maersk, a major shipping company with an annual revenue of over $39billion, said they initially rescued the migrants at the request of Maltese authorities.
“It was a humanitarian situation and we want to clarify that at no time before or during the operation was any financial compensation or support discussed or agreed,” they added.
They later donated €125,000 to Mediterranea to help cover some of the costs. To the organisation, it represents a potential alliance between all types of “civil actors” in their concern for migrants at sea.
In a statement last month, the organisation said: “More important is the fact that the Maersk Etienne case is part and parcel of a relatively long history of European measures and policies that aim at discouraging commercial ships from engaging in operations of sea rescue.
“From this point of view, the collaboration between an oil tanker owned by a leading global player in the shipping industry and the small tug boat Mare Jonio is really not surprising.
“It indicates the potential of an alliance among a wide variety of civil actors operating at sea around the issue of migrant rescue.
“It is important to recognize that many shipping companies are very concerned about this issue, often combining humanitarian motivations and commercial interests.
“The fact that members of Mediterranea participated in meetings with European Shipowners’ associations and Shipping companies in recent months must have been perceived as the potential opening up of the struggle for sea rescue on a new scale.
“And it is easy to imagine that this appeared as a threat to prosecutors (and politicians) who obsessively contend that states should be the exclusive actors in sea rescue, even though in vast stretches of sea state interventions are completely absent.”
The organisation has continued their ethos in the face of legal issues, telling Newsbook.com earlier this week that states like Italy and Malta have a duty to rescue those stranded at sea.
Chaplain Don Mattia Ferrari told the website: “We have been begging Malta and Italy to rescue them since yesterday morning. However, our states do not want to rescue them.
“We cannot accept the fact that people are abandoned to their fate at sea.”
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