LONDON - On the third anniversary of the seizure of the rescue ship, Iuventa, and the judicial investigation into ten members of its crew, Amnesty International is launching a worldwide solidarity campaign.
The campaign calls on the Italian Prosecutor to drop the absurd investigation against the “Iuventa 10”. Despite having saved more than 14,000 lives, they are accused of “facilitating the irregular entry” of migrants into Italy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years.
“Three years after the baseless criminal investigation began, the Iuventa 10 crew remain in limbo with the threat of long jail terms hanging over them,” said Maria Serrano, Amnesty campaigner on migration.
“The criminalization of rescue at sea has hampered vital lifesaving activities in the Central Mediterranean, and it is part of a wider crackdown on acts of solidarity across Europe. Wrapped up with the fate of these ten men and women are the fates of hundreds of others and thousands of refugees and migrants they are helping.”
Prosecutors allege that during three rescues that took place in 2016 and 2017 the Iuventa crew arranged for a direct handover of refugees and migrants from the smugglers and returned to smugglers the empty boats to be reused. The Iuventa crew have denied all accusations. A computerized reconstruction by Forensic Oceanography of the three rescue incidents has demonstrated the Iuventa 10 were saving lives.
“Our forensic study aimed at assessing the allegations of the Italian authorities. The results are clear: There is no evidence of collusion between the Iuventa’s crew and smugglers,” said Lorenzo Pezzani, researcher at Goldsmiths University London, Forensic Oceanography.
One asylum seeker who had been rescued by the Iuventa reported that he had seen people in Libya who were raped, tortured and killed. “If someone had told me I would be sent back to Libya, I would have preferred to just die at sea,” he said. “People were happy and started to sing, thanking god. That’s how we came across the Iuventa"
“We could no longer stand by and watch people disappearing in the Mediterranean mass grave. We chose to use our privilege to be eyewitnesses, reporters, and a safe harbour for thousands of people on the move,” said one of the Iuventa10
“It was, still is and will remain the task of all of to save human lives wherever possible, to offer protection to those who need it, to treat everyone with dignity and to fight with them for the world in which we want to live.”
The Iuventa case is not an isolated one. Across Europe people standing in solidarity or assisting refugees and migrants have been threatened, smeared, intimidated, harassed and dragged through the courts simply for helping others. Authorities have misused and abused anti-smuggling laws to criminalize human rights defenders and punish solidarity.
The number of people arriving in Italy the central Mediterranean have plummeted in recent years due to Europe’s efforts to outsource border control to Libya. Arrivals in Italy have dropped from 181,434 in 2016 to 11,471 in 2019. According to UNHCR, as of July 2020, 9, 725 people have arrived in Italy.
Fewer rescue assets had led to an increase of the death rate in 2018 and 2019. Since 2016 more than 50,000 women, men and children have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya, where they are exposed to arbitrary detention, torture, extortion and rape.
The Iuventa case was the first judicial proceeding launched against a rescue NGO in Italy, following a smear campaign in which NGOs were stigmatized.