On 21 May, the preliminary hearings against four members of the Iuventa crew and two other organisations began in Trapani, Italy. The defendants are accused of “aiding and abetting irregular entry” because they rescued people in distress at sea.
At the same time, a nationwide day of action took place. SOS Humanity was also present under the overall motto of the day “Fight For Solidarity. Stop the criminalisation of flight and rescue at sea”. Read our speech from Saturday here – held by Lisa, deputy chairwoman of SOS Humanity.
“Nice to see you all – thanks for coming out on the streets today!
Seven years ago, SOS Humanity was founded under the name SOS Mediterranee Germany. As part of a European network, our search and rescue ships were active in the central Mediterranean, first the Aquarius, then the Ocean Viking. While the EU and its member states systematically disregard their responsibilities, these two ships alone, financed by the civil society, have already saved almost 35,000 people from drowning. But still, in the first months of this year, help came too late for at least 700 people in the Mediterranean – and that makes us damn angry!
To make this dying end, since the beginning of the year we´ve been active under a new name, and independent from the European network of SOS Mediterranee. And soon we´ll have a new ship: the Sea-Watch 4 will become the Humanity 1 in August! This is possible because Sea-Watch and United4Rescue will leave this ship to us in solidarity, so that we can quickly be back on the sea with rescue missions – thank you so much for this huge gesture of cooperation!
Our re-branding with a new ship also helps us make the civilian search and rescue fleet as diverse and broad as possible. This is the only way we can stay flexible in face of the intimidation and reprisals from European states and the dysfunctional Libyan coast guard. This is the only way we can continue to be operational, even if individual ships are arrested and their crews legally prosecuted. This is the only way will we become more resilient as a community against the authorities’ attempts to block or criminalize us.
Throughout the last years, all of our ships – the Aquarius, the Ocean Viking and the Sea-Watch 4 (soon to-be the Humanity 1) – were detained several times by Italian authorities. They couldn´t rescue anyone for several months – allegedly for bureaucratic reasons, but clearly for political reasons. At the end of 2018, we had to give up the ship Aquarius due to pressure from the Italian government.
People who are active in sea rescue organizations are defamed and intimidated. The crews of several ships have repeatedly been pushed into dangerous situations at sea, surrounded by ships and threatened by gun shots by the EU-funded dysfunctional Libyan coast guard.
On land, aid is criminalized too – not only through bureaucratic obstacles or even legal prosecution, but also through threats on social media and violent attacks. In 2018, the French headquarters of SOS Mediterranee was attacked by right-wing activists who physically assaulted our colleagues.”
“But most affected are always refugees and migrants themselves.”
“On Christmas Eve last year, at least 11 people died in a maritime disaster off the Greek island of Paros. Two weeks ago, three survivors were sentenced in Greece to a total of 439 years in prison. Kheiraldin, Abdallah and Mohamad had allegedly steered the boat – but usually that task falls to passengers by chance.
Also in Greece, last Wednesday, the so-called “Samos 2” were on trial: a father survives after the boat has sunk, losing his six-year-old son, and the Greek coast guard is watching. The sentence would have been up to ten years in prison – but not for the coast guard official responsible for violating international maritime law, but for the father.
These are not individual cases, but common practice at Europe’s external borders. Since 2013, in Italy alone, 2,500 fleeing people have been charged with “facilitating irregular entry” for steering the boat on which they fled. This is commonly happening away from the public attention. There is no strong lobby for these people, as there is for sea rescuers with German passports.
Here too, racism and double standards in favor of white people prevail – not only in state structures, but also in the level of public outrage, civil society solidarity and media publicity.”
“What we need is solidarity and political action for everyone who is seeking protection!”
“The German government writes in its coalition agreement that civil search and rescue operations should not be hindered.
What we demand is not only that they are no longer harassed and criminalized. What we demand is a European, state-coordinated and financed sea rescue program! What we demand is an end to EU support for the Libyan coast guard, which systematically breaks international law!
And what we demand is an end to the racist unequal treatment of people at the EU external borders! We see from the war in Ukraine what is possible to protect refugees if there is a political will. The German government and all EU states must abide by existing law and provide safe access to fair asylum procedures for all those seeking protection – there must be no two-tier refugee protection!
Intimidation campaigns like the trial against the Iuventa crew, the Samos 2 and the Paros 3 are meant to scare us and wear us down. They are meant to make us doubt our work and our values.
They try to make us believe that it is natural that there are borders in the first place. That it is natural that only certain people are allowed to cross these borders. And that it is natural that others die trying to do the same.
Let us stand in solidarity with others and with each other to end the dying on the Mediterranean Sea! Let’s be loud and remind the German as well as the Italian government today that it is their damn duty ito save lives – today and any other day!“
Photo credits: Wanda Proft