Court rules on case against migrant sea rescue charities

Court rules on case against migrant sea rescue charities


An Italian court on Friday cleared three migrant sea rescue charities that had been accused of abetting irregular immigration in complicity with human traffickers, throwing out a case opened more than seven years ago.

A pre-trial judge in Trapani, Sicily, said there were no grounds to proceed against international charities Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Save the Children and Germany’s Jugend Rettet.

In 2017, Trapani prosecutors seized Jugend Rettet’s rescue boat, the “Iuventa”, saying they had found “serious evidence” of encounters at sea between its crew members and Libyan traffickers.

They launched similar charges against Save the Children and MSF, without impounding their vessels. Following the accusations, Jugend Rettet and Save the Children stopped Mediterranean sea rescues, while MSF continued them.

The decision is a vindication for the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that had always denied any collusion with traffickers and rejected accusations from Italian politicians of acting as “sea taxis” for migrants.

“These unfounded accusations have attempted to tarnish the work of humanitarian search and rescue teams for years. They were intended to remove vessels from the sea and to counter their efforts of saving lives and bearing witness. Now these accusations have collapsed,” the President of MSF, Christos Christou, said after the ruling.

Italy is the first port of call for thousands of people who try to cross the Mediterranean from north Africa, and rescue charities have often been targeted by political parties pledging to stem the arrivals.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has accused the rescue NGOs of acting as “ferry boats” for migrants, and her government has passed legislation to curb their activities, including through the impounding of their vessels.

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