Why is this important?
People in distress at sea must be rescued. This is a legal and humanitarian duty. But a draft law from the Federal Ministry of the Interior is now calling this principle into question, because in future maritime rescue could be punished with up to 10 years in prison. This is the biggest attempt ever to criminalise search and rescue organisations in Germany.
Paragraph 96 of the Residence Act stipulates that people who derive a personal benefit from the “smuggling of foreigners” – for example if they receive money for it – are to be punished. This paragraph is now to be amended so that simply bringing people rescued from distress at sea ashore or repeatedly bringing people rescued from distress at sea ashore would already be a criminal offence. In addition, other forms of support for people fleeing could also be criminalised. Depending on the interpretation, anyone who even gives undocumented migrants a lift in a car within the country, buys them a public transport ticket, distributes food or water or offers them accommodation could be punished. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison!
This inhumane paragraph is embedded in a draft law that criminalises people on the move and tightens deportation measures: a bill full of inhumane sham solutions. Neither prison sentences for maritime rescuers nor the further disenfranchisement of people seeking protection will have any impact on the burden on local authorities. However, the consequences are very real for the people whose basic rights are to be further eroded or who are to be penalised for their commitment to upholding human rights. With the current legislative proposal, Germany is joining the repressive policies of Greece and Italy, where maritime rescuers and refugees themselves have been caught up in years of criminal proceedings. Numerous human rights organisations such as Pro Asyl and Amnesty International have already classified the draft law as contrary to human rights.