Opinion: Saving lives is not a crime

Originally posted in Italian news: Salvare vite non è reato (esodoassociazione.it) – Translated by Google Translate

by Maurizio Ambrosini, University of Milan, FAiR consortium partner

17 May 2024

Foreign NGOs rescuing migrants at sea and depositing them in Italian ports were the perfect target. The sovereignist narrative of a country under invasion by obscure globalist lobbies had built an ideal enemy to be fought. The ghost of ethnic substitution had found culprits. Security apparatuses, Italian-style secret services and some prosecutors lent themselves to collaborating, building evidence, accrediting unlikely witnesses, activating very strict procedures to combat them. A state of siege. It didn’t matter that along with Germany’s Juventa, Nobel Prize winners, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children were also involved.

The obstinacy of this narrative is reaffirmed by the fact that more or less in the same days, close to the sentence of the GUP of Trapani, a senior government official announced the presentation of a book in which, he says, he documented the flood of money in support of NGOs engaged at sea. Even if it were true, one would say: money well spent.
Certainly more than the three million invested in the judicial inquiry that was so spectacularly shipwrecked. However, the shift in attention must not be overlooked: from the rescued people to the funding flows. The dehumanization of the (alleged) enemy is a rhetorical propellant of every war: as in the definition of “hybrid weapon” inflicted on the unfortunate refugees seeking refuge between the Belarusian and Polish borders.

The acquittal, sensational because it took place even before the trial, but belated, because it came after seven years of judicial persecution, does not, however, refer to an isolated blunder. As of June 2023, according to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, there were at least 63 legal or administrative proceedings initiated by European states against NGOs engaged at sea (Social Editor). For their part, in the last year the Italian authorities have issued 21 administrative detentions against humanitarian ships, blocking their rescue activities for 460 consecutive days. One wonders how many lives could have been saved without these improvident measures.

Other acquittals have seen the activists of Baobab in Rome, the volunteers of Linea d’Ombra in Trieste, and the religious of Eritrean origin Father Mussie Zerai Yosief emerge victorious from the courtrooms, to name just a few cases. Despite repeated failures, the machine of the criminalization of solidarity does not stop, prisoner, one might say, of a sort of compulsion to repeat. Here’s the thing: international migration has become a key issue on the political agenda and, above all, a flagship topic of national-populist propaganda. On the contrary, as the new EU Pact shows, the. Anti-humanitarian rhetoric of border defense has also infiltrated mainstream politics. The backlash against neoliberal globalization involves a new demand for rigidly guarded national borders. But since stopping goods, financial flows, and the movement of productive activities is much more complicated, political actors respond to this question by trying to stem the movements of poor and defenseless human beings.

The controversy has become more and more bitter and now also affects those who help people in search of escape. They, too, are entered in the register of enemies of the nation, before eventually ending up on the register of suspects. Accusations such as that of vice-smugglers express this approach in an exemplary way, the result of an ideological polarization that divides the world into opposing camps. Those who help and rescue are labeled accomplices of traffickers and border violators. Suffice it to think of the disjointed controversy against the Italian Bishops’ Conference, because of the aid provided by some bishops to Mediterranea Saving Humans.

It is legitimate to support different positions on migration policies, but at least one principle should be safeguarded: as in wars and humanitarian emergencies, those who help must be respected and left free to intervene.

Disclaimer: Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. Grant Agreement 101094828.

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