The Italian authorities have confiscated the boat of this NGO dedicated to the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean and accused three of its responsibilities of encouraging irregular migration. From the organization, they denounce the intention to silence the critical voices to the European migratory policy.
Nearly 60,000 lives have been rescued by the NGO Proactiva Open Arms in its 43 missions in the Mediterranean Sea. Now his work is on standby since the Italian authorities seized the Open Arms boat on March 18 and opened an investigation to facilitate irregular immigration against the captain of the ship, Marc Reig, and the head of operations, Anabel Montes.
Riccardo Gatti, a coordinator of the organization in Italy, believes that this operation is part of a campaign to put an end to the organizations that work in the Mediterranean by rescuing immigrants. When they sail, he says, they are witnesses of how the Libyan, Italian and European Union authorities act in response to the migration crisis. They also know first-hand the conditions in which these people flee. “Once a young man, who was 1.70 meters and weighed 35 kilograms, got on the boat,” says El Salto.
NGOs like Proactiva Open Arms are a confirmation of what is happening in the Southern Border, where every year thousands of people die trying to reach the European dream
NGOs like Proactiva Open Arms are a confirmation of what is happening in the Southern Border, where every year thousands of people die trying to reach the European dream. According to the International Organization for Migration, from 2014 to 2017, some 3,000 people per year have died.
“His only goal is that we disappear because we show an uncomfortable reality,” says Gatti. That is why, when they are on the high seas, he says, they receive pressure from the Frontex ships, the European agency of the Border and Coast Guard, as well as the Italian and Libyan security forces.
DISPUTE WITH THE LIBYAN AUTHORITIES
Although Gatti was not on the ship the day he was seized, he is currently in Italy giving support to his companions and managing the proceedings before the courts.
It all started, recounts Gatti, when the NGO’s boat went to rescue immigrants who were on a barge. Then, while they were getting on the boat, a Libyan coast guard ship appeared. “With a threatening tone they told us to give them to the refugees, who took care of them,” explains Gatti. The Libyans were armed and threatened to kill them. The Italian authorities also told them to leave the authorities of the African country to coordinate this operation, but the NGO refused. “We can not return them to Tripoli,” says Gatti, who affirms that, there, they are victims of torture and slavery.
“Finally, the coastguards turned around and left,” Gatti continues. This Italian aid worker argues that the NGO’s ship was 73 miles off the Libyan coast, in international waters, where the coastguard of the African country has no jurisdiction. In fact, recalls Gatti, the Coast Guard can only operate at a distance of 12 miles from the Libyan coast.
Having the ship stopped, Gatti says, does not come cheap either. In fact, the NGO costs an average of between 4,000 and 5,000 euros per day
On the other hand, Gerard Canals, head of missions of Proactiva Open Arms, details that Libya is not found in any SAR zone of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an area of responsibility to coordinate rescues that can go beyond your maritime boundaries , so Proactiva Open Arms did not have the obligation to deliver the immigrants to the coastguard of the African country.
After the dispute with the Libyan authorities, the vessel asked Italy for a safe port to land the people, but the authorities of this country told them that they had to manage it with the nation of origin of the ship, that is, Spain. Given the lack of coordination, Gatti says, they decided to go to Malta to leave a mother with her baby who was seriously ill. “They had malnutrition and the child had an infection by the body and the head,” he says.
Finally, Italy gave them permission to go to the port of Pozzalo, in Sicily. Once there, the police got on the boat and asked Montes for documentation, and Reig, who then went to testify at the police station. “It’s not the first time we do it,” says Gatti, who explains that this is common when there is an incident. Their surprise was when they received the notification that they were being investigated and, therefore, they realized that they were not testifying as witnesses, but as defendants. In this sense, Gatti emphasizes that, in this situation, they should have given a statement with their lawyer and not alone.
According to the prosecutor’s order of Catania, dated March 27, 2018, the Italian military ship Capri, which is in Tripoli, informed Rome at 05: 37h on March 18 that the Libyan coastguard had assumed responsibility for the rescue. An hour later, the Italian ship spoke again with Rome to announce that the Libyans had arrived at the scene of the rescue and asked that the Open Arms ship be removed from the place. The Libyan patrol boat also communicated with Rome to announce that it assumed responsibility for the rescue and demanded that the NGO boat leave the area.
For this reason, Rome contacted the crew of the Open Arms to tell them that Libya was in charge of this rescue. However, those responsible for the ship responded at 09:26 that they had tried unsuccessfully to contact the Libyans and that, because there were people in the water, they proceeded to save them. For Gatti, the car highlights that those responsible for the Capri “were behind the incident between the Libyan coastguard and the Open Arms”.
THE JUDICIAL PROCESS
The prosecutor of Catania, Carmelo Zuccaro, wanted to accuse them of being part of a criminal trafficking organization. For this, according to the Italian legislation, a minimum of three involved is required. Therefore, apart from Montes y Reig, the prosecutor also considered that Canals was part of this criminal association. “I’ve never been notified in writing, I’ve learned everything from the press,” says the mission chief, despite not being on the ship or in Italy on the day of the dispute with the Libyan coastguards. In fact, the prosecutor’s order specifies that Canals had a “(constitutive) participation in the crime.” For this crime, the prosecutor asked for fifteen years in prison for each one.
At the end of March, investigating judge Nunzio Sarpiettro found no evidence of a crime and withdrew the case against Canals. He also declared the prosecutor incompetent and sent the case to the prosecutor’s office of Ragusa, to whom he gave a period of 20 days to make his report. However, Montes and Reig face an offence of facilitating irregular immigration, which can lead to a sentence of up to three years in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros for each immigrant rescued in that operation, which means about 1.5 million euros, says Gatti. At the moment, all the members of the NGO are at liberty.
However, the ship is still seized from March 18. At a minimum, the NGO must wait for the 20 days that the prosecution has to present its report and the decision of the magistrate. If the cause does not prosper, clarifies Gatti, the boat will be returned to them at once. On the other hand, if you raise it to trial then you will have to wait for it to be held and there will be a final judgment.
Having the ship stopped, Gatti says, does not come cheap either. In fact, the NGO costs an average of between 4,000 and 5,000 euros per day. “It can not be stopped, it requires a minimum circulation,” says Gatti, adding that another important expense is the power generator, which can not be stopped either.
Canals is optimistic and think that there is no “legal basis” to accuse his colleagues and believes that they will absolve them. However, he warns that the situation has changed a lot since the entry into force of Themis, the new legislation of the European Union (EU) to control immigration in the Mediterranean. This no longer forces refugees rescued on the high seas to move to Italy, as determined by Triton, the old law. According to the new norm, the country that has coordinated the rescue is the one that has to organize the landing.
“This leaves a gap for the Libyans to do it,” says Canals. However, qualifies that they can not deliver immigrants to the authorities of this country. “They do not want to go back to the Libyans. We can not rescue them and then give them to them. It would be a contradiction, “says Canals.
In contrast, Gatti is not so optimistic and does not know what will happen to his teammates. “I do not trust myself,” he says. He accuses Italy of encouraging hot returns and handing over the immigrants to the Libyan coastguard. For that reason, he says that they want to silence the NGOs.
On the other hand, Gatti said that in Italy is selling the speech that in the boats also come, terrorists. “An obvious media construction to manipulate public opinion, making it a reason to accept violations of international regulations and conventions by the Italian government and, in the process, make the NGOs disappear completely,” says Gatti.
Now, after the seizure of the Open Arms, there is only the Aquarius, the ship of SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders. “It bothers them that we are on the front line and we are witnesses of what they do”, says Canals
In fact, the two members of Proactiva Open Arms agree that Italy has started a campaign against NGOs that act in the Mediterranean to save refugees. Until last year there were nine organizations operating in this sea, but little by little they have been acting against them.
Despite the situation, Gatti and Canals say they will sail in the Mediterranean to rescue people. Now his goal is to get a new boat while the current one is still in Italy. From the organization estimate that the type of ship they require can cost between 780,000 euros and two million euros. “We are doing this because there is a need and the States do not comply,” says Gatti.
Source: El Salto Diario.