Thursday, September 28, 2023

FOCUS online exclusive - files reveal set-up: refugee rescuers cooperate with smugglers

FOCUS online exclusive - files reveal set-up: refugee rescuers cooperate with smugglers Article by FOCUS online reporter Axel Spilcker • 3 hours. Aid organizations are trying to rescue migrants from acute danger situations on the Mediterranean. At least that's what they say. Research has shown evidence that some NGOs cooperate with human traffickers and have their own tricks to hide the cooperation. The sun bathed the Mediterranean near the Libyan coast in a rich blue. Sea rescuers from the relief ship “Iuventa” roared up in their Rhib (rigid inflatable boat) to tow away dozens of refugees in a fully occupied inflatable boat. A tug boat with two Yamaha engines in the stern accompanied the operation. The three smugglers talked to the helpers as if they were good old acquaintances. Chats between tugboats and sea rescuers Together we went to the “Iuventa”, a ship belonging to the German aid organization “Jugend Rettet”. There the smugglers chatted a little with the crew while the migrants climbed up onto the German ship. A scene that has often occurred, according to Italian investigations: human traffickers take the refugees just a few kilometers off the North African coast to meeting points with the ships of international aid organizations. They are picked up there and taken to Italy. No trace of sea rescue. At least that's what the investigation report by Italian prosecutors in the western Sicilian city of Trapani suggests. Cooperation with human traffickers The 650-page report from 2020, which is available to FOCUS online, also uses images and videos to show how closely non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as “Jugend Rettet”, “Save the children” or “Doctors without Borders” are working with Libyan human traffickers should have cooperated. Last year, the Trapani public prosecutor's office charged 21 defendants with aiding and abetting the illegal entry of migrants into Italy. The organizations deny all allegations. The allegations date back six to seven years. There were protests against law enforcement from Germany in particular. The Berlin NGO “Jugend Rettet” viewed the investigation as a renewed attempt to criminalize refugee rescuers in the Mediterranean. Critics, on the other hand, accuse the aid organizations of promoting the influx of refugees into the EU with their actions. The investigators in Sicily speak of a “pull factor”. Salvage operations make the smuggling business easier The Sicilian prosecutors assume that the systematic rescue operations carried out by NGOs near the Libyan coast make the smuggling business easier. So far this year alone, more than 2,300 people have died on the central sea route from North Africa to Italy. A large number of them set off from Libya's coast in hopelessly overcrowded boats. Exploited by unscrupulous gangs of smugglers, immigrants from Arab, Asian and African countries risk their lives to reach the promised West. The situation is now getting worse. Italy has reported almost 130,000 immigrants for 2023 so far, twice as many as in the previous year. The pictures of the completely overcrowded Mediterranean island of Lampedusa prove the plight of refugees. With the ultra-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the Italian government has once again tightened its stance against sea rescue organizations. NGO's appeal in court failed So it is not surprising that the lawyers of the Berlin NGO “Jugend Rettet” failed in their objections to the criminal trial in court in June 2023. Their lawyer Francesca Cancellaro regretted the decision: “Today in court, border protection took priority over the protection of fundamental rights. We wanted the Supreme Court to decide once and for all the balance between border security and human protection. But the judge denied… all of these possibilities.” The colleagues from “Save the Children” had already ended their activities on the Mediterranean with their ship Vos Hestia at the start of the investigation. After all, the allegations made by the Italian investigators are serious and have been documented in detail. According to the investigation report, the English organization “Save the Children” with its ship Vos Hestia, the international NGO “Doctors Without Borders” with the Vos Prudence and “Jugend Rettet” with the Iuventa “set up a complete system for organizing, facilitating and supporting the illegal “Designed immigration based on ships”.