Red card to the Italian government for the arrest of Carola Rackete, captain of rescue boat Sea-Watch 3

, by Antoine Laurent, Translated by Lorène Weber

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Red card to the Italian government for the arrest of Carola Rackete, captain of rescue boat Sea-Watch 3

In the night of 28-29 June, Lampedusa became again the centre of attention of the international press. Sea-Watch 3, a Dutch flag-flying rescue and humanitarian boat belonging to the German NGO Sea-Watch, forced the blockade established by the Italian authorities.

This docking happened 17 days after fifty people were rescued off the coasts of Libya, but as no harbour accepted to welcome them. During this long period, the Sea-Watch 3 had to wait for an adequate solution, as numerous ships had experienced before, since the unprecedented episode of the Aquarius in June 2018, before resigning, overcome by exhaustion and desolation, to dock in Italy.

For Matteo Salvini, the Interior Minister of Italy and fervent far-right activist, the NGOs which have been patrolling in the Mediterranean since 2015 to rescue human beings in distress are criminals. According to him, they would be responsible for illegal immigration, deaths at sea, profits generated by human trafficking, and should consequently be severely punished.

Yet, none of the NGOs which were sued oved the past years was convicted until now. The accusations of complicity with smuggles are completely unfounded, and this smear campaign of humanitarian effort costs thousands of people’s lives each year, at sea and in Libya.

A shared responsibility between Italy and the EU

Firstly, the European states, and Italy in the first place, flout maritime law, which obligates ships and coastal states to ensure security at sea. This implies:

  • To answer distress signals, something that Italy does not do anymore, as the country rejects the calls or delegates them to Libyan authorities, although they are not equipped with an appropriate coordination centre;
  • To engage means of rescue, something that the EU delegated to Libya despite the country is not equipped with ships able to carry out mass rescue operations;
  • To disembark in a safe place the persons rescued, whereas the EU does everything for the survivors to be disembarked in Libya, where migrants are daily tortured, extorted, raped and reduced to slavery.

Secondly, the European Union flouts refugee law, which juxtaposes maritime law, by pushing exiled people back to a country (Libya) where they are persecuted.

Finally, the most emblematic aspect of this episode of the Sea-Watch 3 is the violent assault of the Italian authorities against human solidarity, which became a crime punishable by the law after the passing of “anti-migrant” and “anti-NGO” decrees. The French Constitutional Council had banned the “crime of solidarity” in the name of the republican principle of fraternity. But in Italy, this oppressive downward spiral wanted by the nationalist hate-propagators breaks several fundamental human rights, yet cherished by our European civilisation.

On the migratory issue, closely related to the rise of the far-right in Europe, the responsibility of democrat and republican parties is central. The socialists, the democrats, the liberals and the conservatives all have in common the duty to preserve the vital founding principles of our social cohesion. By addressing migration essentially through security answers, by penalising every immigrant economically, socially and administratively, by allowing the banalisation of a xenophobic rhetoric, and by repressing any initiative of solidarity, the European governments gave the far-right a dangerous space of emergence, that it will be difficult to correct. The more their attacks against “the other” are spreading, the more alterity becomes an anomaly that – in their view – should be banned promptly. We are repeating the darkest episodes of our common history.

Carola Rackete’s act of disobedience is a warning signal addressed to all Europeans: fight for your humanist values, or we will all be defeated.

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