Italy court dismisses long-running case against migrant rescue ship crews News
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Italy court dismisses long-running case against migrant rescue ship crews

An Italian court on Friday dismissed a long-running case against the rescue ship crews of three humanitarian organizations, who previously stood accused of aiding and abetting migrant smugglers while they were helping to rescue thousands of migrants off the coast of Libya and in the Mediterranean Sea. 

The court in Trapani, Sicily threw out the charges against all 10 defendants in what has become known as the “Iuventa case,” following the recommendation of the country’s public prosecutor in February, for lack of evidence and the absence of criminal activity. The thousands of migrants rescued by the crews entered Italy legally, meaning no crime had ever been committed. 

Rescue crew members from German NGO Jugend Rettet, as well as Save The Children and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), were fully acquitted of all charges against them, including aiding and abetting illegal immigration. 

The case, named after the rescue vessel operated by Jugend Rettet, was launched in 2017 after the Italian government received a tip-off from an ex-policeman on board one of the three vessels operated by the NGOs. The crews were accused of cooperating with human traffickers by acting as “taxis” for migrants and enabling said human traffickers to continue trafficking by allowing them to use their boats and dinghies. 

The case, spanning nearly seven years and involving more than 20 people, including the Italian Interior Ministry who joined as a plaintiff, was labeled by Iuventa crew members as marking “the onset of a public smear campaign against civil sea rescue, aimed at legitimizing crackdowns on rescue efforts.”

Following Friday’s ruling, several crew members and the NGOs released statements commenting on the case’s end. Save The Children, in a statement posted to their website, asserted that the decision by the Trapani court to dismiss their case was “one step towards affirming that our organization was operating legally to save lives.”

Daniela Fatarella, the NGO’s Italian CEO, continued:

In the years in which the search and rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean was active, 2016 and 2017, Save The Children rescued almost 10,000 people who were at risk of drowning at sea. Among them were 1,500 children, many separated from their families. We are very pleased with the outcome of the preliminary hearing and thank all our supporters who, even during these years, have continued to believe in the values of our organization.

Kathrin Schmidt, Dariush Beigui, Sascha Girke, and Uli Tröder, crew onboard the Iuventa refugee rescue ship, reportedly saved the lives of over 14,000 people between 2016 and 2017, before the ship’s seizure. “After 5 years of investigation and 2 years of preliminary trial, both the prosecution and the judge admit that the accusations were baseless,” the crew wrote in a thread on X (formerly Twitter). “This confirms that this has been a political prosecution by the Italian authorities with the only aim of discouraging solidarity with migrants.”

Throughout the trial’s duration, the crew members and NGOs have been critical of the EU’s rigid immigration policy, labeling the supranational organization “Fortress Europe.” Italy, in particular, remains notoriously tough on immigration and migrant rescue NGOs. This has accelerated under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right government, which has limited ships to one sea rescue at a time and only allows them to dock at an assigned port. 

Meloni’s government has also renewed a controversial EU-endorsed agreement between Italy and the UN-backed Libyan government initially signed in 2017, which will see Italy provide training and funding to Libyan authorities and coastguard to prevent the departure of migrants and fight human traffickers. 

“Arbitrary repression against sea rescue activists is only the high point of Fortress Europe,” Jugend Rettet posted on X. “Nevertheless, today we toast – to the Iuventa crew and their unwavering resilience, to the rescue ships still in operation and to the long overdue recognition by the Italian judiciary that the Iuventa case was a political farce from the start.”