Speech Stop GEAS demonstration, 26.11.2023

Lisa aus dem Vorstand von SOS Humanity mit einer Jacke und schwarzer Mütze und einem roten Mikro bei der GEAS Demo in Berlin.
Wanda Proft / SOS Humanity

Lisa Bogerts from the board of SOS Humanity gives a speech at the “STOP GEAS” demonstration on 26 November 2023 in Berlin.

They were exhausted and worried when they were finally allowed to disembark in Italy. The people on board the Humanity 1 had just survived the long and dangerous journey across the Central Mediterranean – the deadliest migration route in the world. Before we found them and were able to take them on board our search and rescue ship Humanity 1, they had been traveling for up to three days in small boats, on the open sea, without life jackets and enough fuel. I was on board the ship in October when these people from Syria, Sudan and elsewhere managed to escape the harsh conditions in their countries and in Libya, where they had been forced to wait until the crossing. But I didn´t feel fully relieved when they finally disembarked in Italy after being rescued.
We all knew that this might not the “happy end” that such an arrival in “safe Europe” might promise.

We all knew that this might not the "happy end" that such an arrival in "safe Europe" might promise.

We knew that they – and those who would come after them – would face racist hostility, possible deportation custody and stricter asylum laws. Some of them were likely to be faced with interrogations and accusations of being human traffickers, e.g. because they were sitting near the engine and allegedly steering the boats. In Italy and Greece, numerous refugees are in prison for this, with sentences of over 45 years.

With the CEAS reform, the EU wants to restrict so-called “irregular” migration and combat “human traffickers”. But it does not address the actual problem: there are hardly any “legal” migration routes for refugees. Refugees have to take extremely dangerous escape routes if they want to exercise their right to asylum.

According to the Geneva Refugee Convention, people have the right to apply for asylum and may not be punished if they enter a country to do so. But in many EU countries, they are punished for entering a country “irregularly” or aiding and abetting this. How else are they supposed to enter the EU to make an application? It could hardly be more paradoxical! Systematic criminalization hits people on the move the hardest. But also those who help them risk a lot. Search and rescue ships belonging to NGOs are detained, harassed with repeated fines of up to 10,000 euros and prevented from carrying out their operations for weeks. Italy, you might say, they have a fascist government, don’t they?

Luckily Germany stands up for human rights. And the agreement of the coalition government even states that civil sea rescue operations must not be hindered…

...if we hadn't happened to discover that the German government wants to change a law so that sea rescuers could soon also face trial here in Germany.

According to this proposal by the Ministry of the Interior, people like me and my colleagues could go to prison for up to 10 years. This is the biggest attempt to criminalize civil sea rescue that has ever been made in Germany! How this could come about is so complicatedly arranged that it is almost impossible to understand – and that is certainly no coincidence with such a politically controversial topic:

It’s about the draft of a – watch out! – “Repatriation Improvement Act”. As part of this, the Residence Act is also to be amended, specifically paragraph 96, the so-called “human trafficking paragraph”. Previously, this only punished those who helped people to enter another Schengen state, such as Italy, and did so in return for payment. Now, however, it should also be punishable without payment if it happens “repeatedly or for the benefit of several foreigners”.

The Ministry of the Interior claims – under pressure from the press – that it was not meant to refer to sea rescue at all. But what was “meant” by it is completely irrelevant if such a legal text creates the basis for public prosecutors to surveil NGOs, secretly investigate them, confiscate their ships and imprison their crews. The example of the Iuventa crew in Italy shows how an NGO can be bled dry by years of litigation – even without a legal sentence!

But we will not accept that emergency aid for refugees is criminalized even further! If you go to the museum here in Berlin, people who helped others to escape from the GDR are proudly honored. If you look away from history to the present, people are criminalized if they do not let others die fleeing injustice, poverty and repression.

We condemn this double standard, which could soon make our work impossible and cause even more deaths at the EU's external borders!

We condemn the fact that the Federal Government is foisting a politically controversial tightening of the law on the Bundestag, hidden in a legally barely comprehensible procedure and without the participation of civil society!

We call on the Ministry of the Interior and Minister Nancy Faeser of the SPD to withdraw the extension of Section 96! We call on all members of the Bundestag to vote NO in the vote on the “Repatriation Improvement Act”! Flight, sea rescue and humanitarian aid must not be criminalized and hindered – not in Germany and not in other EU states! On the contrary: The EU must finally set up a European and state-coordinated sea rescue program so that states finally fulfil their international legal obligation to rescue!

The rights of people seeking protection must be respected! Nobody must let people drown!

On Tuesday, we published a statement against this scandal, together with 55 other organizations. You should also take a stand against it: Sign and share our online petition “No imprisonment for sea rescue” to be loud against this criminalization!

Because this is just one of many developments that show the trend in Europe of systematically restricting the rights of people seeking protection. We are here today because we oppose the reform of the Common European Asylum System! The CEAS reform undermines human rights standards and virtually abolishes the individual right to asylum. We therefore call on the German government to reject the CEAS reform in the trilogue negotiations!

People on the move deserve our respect. We declare our solidarity with them in the fight against the inhumane effects of the EU asylum policy.

Anyone who tries to criminalize them and us has underestimated the strength and solidarity that brought us onto the streets here today and that will allow us to continue to fight for our convictions in the future.

Lisa (Vorständin SOS Humanity)

Because the Humanity 1 is already back in action in the Central Mediterranean and will save lives. Our crew will once again meet people who are strong. People like them have always migrated to other countries and they will continue to do so. Fortress Europe will never manage to become the gatekeeper of their quest for freedom and happiness.

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SOS Humanity e.V.
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SOS Humanity e.V.

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