Posts Tagged ‘rescue-at-sea’

Greece’s mistaken deterrence: migrants and aid workers facing heavy prison sentences

November 17, 2021
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis

A post by Marion MacGregor published on 15 November 2021in ‘Infomigrants’ brings out an awful truth which I have to face up to even though Greece is my adopted country. In the face of Turkey ‘weaponsing’ migrants, it is trying its hands at deterrence in the hope that it will diminish the pressure of inflows

Greece and other European countries are increasingly using the threat of criminal proceedings against aid workers and those migrants who ended up being marked as migrant smugglers.

Hanad Abdi Mohammad is in prison, he says, because of something he was forced to do. The Somali is serving an impossibly long sentence of 142 years (!) after he was convicted last December for driving an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants to Greece. He says that he didn’t have a choice, because the smuggler hit him in the face and threatened him with a gun before abandoning the boat in rough seas. As 28-year-old Mohammad told journalists and members of the European Parliament who visited the prison last week, he “didn’t think saving people is a crime.”

In the same prison on the Greek island of Chios two men from Afghanistan, Amir Zaheri and Akif Rasouli, both in their 20s, are also serving sentences of 50 years for similar criminal offences. The men’s convictions and staggering prison terms show how far Greece is ready to go in order to stop migrants in their tracks.

On the day the smuggler abandoned them at sea between Turkey and Greece, Mohammad and nearly three dozen other migrants were only concerned about their lives. Mohammad says that he called the Turkish coast guard repeatedly, begging to be rescued. But when it arrived, the Turkish patrol boat circled the migrants’ dinghy sending water into the boat and gradually pushing it toward Greece. In the chaos, two women fell overboard and drowned, AP reports.

The survivors were finally rescued by the Greek coast guard, and Mohammad helped others onto the rescue boat. He admitted to having driven the boat after the smuggler left. It didn’t cross his mind that would lead to him being prosecuted as a smuggler.

It’s not possible that someone who comes to claim asylum in Greece is threatened with such heavy sentences simply because they were forced, by circumstances or pressure, to take over handling a boat,” one of the lawyers representing the three imprisoned in Chios, Alexandros Georgoulis, told AP. Greek authorities, he said, “are essentially baptizing the smuggled as the smuggler.”

From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland
From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland

Greek authorities have also accused aid workers and volunteers helping migrants in Greece of serious crimes. In one widely publicized case, the Syrian human rights worker Sara Mardini, a refugee herself, and an Irish volunteer Sean Binder were arrested and detained for months in 2018 on suspicion of espionage, money laundering, human trafficking and other offenses. Due to face trial on the island of Lesbos alongside 22 other civil society activists later this week, Binder says he is “terrified.”

I’ve had a taste of life in prison on Chios. It was all scabies and bed bugs with 17 of us packed in a cell,” Binder told The Guardian. “The police holding cells were even worse, the most awful place on earth; squalid, windowless rooms full of asylum seekers just there because authorities had nowhere else to put them.”

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, a campaigner with an Amnesty International group which plans to monitor the trial in Greece, says that this is not only happening there. “Human rights defenders across Europe are being criminalized … for helping refugees and migrants,” he told The Guardian. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/mary-lawlor-condemns-criminalization-of-those-saving-lives-in-the-mediterranean/

AP reports that, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have initiated 58 investigations and legal proceedings since 2016 against private entities involved in search and rescue.

I think it’s important to challenge these in the courts, to not at all sit back and accept that we should be cast as smugglers or spies because I offered CPR, (or) more often than not just a smile, to someone in distress,” Binder told the news agency. “It is preposterous that we should be cast as criminals. I don’t accept it….It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t deserve to drown in the sea.

Binder told The Guardian that he has not bought a return ticket to the UK, where he has been studying. He and Mardini face a maximum eight-year sentence, convertible into a fine. They are still under investigation for offences which could carry 25-year sentences if they are convicted.

In my view, the problem can only be tackled in a European context [see e.g. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/legal-migration-and-integration_en%5D but it seems most member states cling to outdated notion of sovereignty.

Not directly related but possibly relevant is recent legislation in Greece, adopted on November 11, 2021, that makes it a criminal offence to spread “fake news.” Human Rights Watch said that the Greek government should immediately move to revoke the provision, which is incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom. “In Greece, you now risk jail for speaking out on important issues of public interest, if the government claims it’s false,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The criminal sanctions risk making journalists and virtually anyone else afraid to report on or to debate important issues such as the handling of Covid-19 or migration or government economic policy.

While the trial began Thursday, it was almost immediately suspended. The court’s decision to adjourn, said 27-year-old Binder, a diver and German national, “is further proof of the absurdity of this case.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/11/18/drop-charges-greece-delays-trial-humanitarians-who-aided-refugees-sea

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/36487/greece-migrants-and-aid-workers-facing-decades-in-prison

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/kerry-aid-worker-faces-trial-in-greece-41058865.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/17/greece-alleged-fake-news-made-crime

https://reliefweb.int/report/greece/greece-guilty-verdict-migrant-rights-defenders-could-mean-more-deaths-sea-un-expert

https://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2021/11/19/trial-of-aid-workers-in-greece-is-adjourned-amid-protests_5de29280-fde8-4c77-b7c2-ef878c497157.html

Rescuing refugees ‘a moral imperative’ not a crime

April 15, 2021

Pip Cook in Geneva Solutions of 30 March 2021 published a good overview of the vexing issue of saving refugees in Europe [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/]

MSF worked in collaboration with Sea-Watch on board the Sea-Watch 4 until February 2021, providing medical care and supporting with humanitarian assistance for rescued people. (Credit: Médecins Sans Frontières)

As countries across Europe adopt increasingly tough migration policies, NGOs are being prosecuted for acts of solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. We speak to Stephen Cornish, director general of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Switzerland, and Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist and author who was imprisoned in Australia’s offshore asylum system for six years, about the threat this growing hostility poses to Europe’s democracies.

On 4 March 2021, Italian prosecutors charged dozens of people from humanitarian organisations including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Save the Children with colluding with people smugglers while carrying out rescue operations in the Mediterranean. After an investigation spanning nearly four years, crew members, mission heads and legal representatives who saved thousands of people from drowning at sea are facing years in prison, sending shockwaves through the humanitarian community. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/new-amnesty-report-on-human-rights-defenders-helping-migrants/

It’s hard to imagine how saving a life can become a criminalised activity,” says Stephen Cornish, director of MSF Suisse, speaking to Geneva Solutions. The organisation, which denies the accusations, estimates that its six humanitarian ships helped save more than 81,000 lives at sea. “It would be like criminalising the fire department for going to put out a fire.”

The investigation is one of dozens brought against NGOs running search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean since 2016, when a handful of humanitarian organisations including MSF and SOS Mediteranee launched vessels in response to a rise in the number of people attempting the perilous journey from countries such as Libya and Turkey to claim asylum in Europe. Over the past few years, these vessels have been frequently detained by authorities or trapped at sea for weeks at a time, refused entry to ports where they can safely disembark. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/]

Hostility towards rescue agencies has grown since the height of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, says Cornish, when over one million people – the majority of whom were refugees fleeing the war in Syria – fled to Europe by sea over the course of the year, mainly arriving in Greece and Italy. The EU’s failure to share responsibility for the dramatic rise in the number of people seeking asylum in Europe left countries such as Greece and Italy overwhelmed, Cornish says: “People initially responded with charity and welcome, but then the failure was at a government level not to share the responsibility, and to repopulate people across different states.”

As anti-refugee politics became increasingly mainstream across Europe, countries began to tighten their borders and scrabble for ways to reduce ‘irregular’ migration into the bloc. Last week marked five years since the introduction of the EU-Turkey Deal – a key pillar of these efforts. The agreement called on Turkey to prevent asylum seekers and migrants from reaching the EU in exchange for financial assistance and the promise of the eventual creation of legal resettlement pathways to Europe.

Five years on, Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country in the world, with the EU accused of outsourcing its migration management and turning a blind eye to the poor living conditions facing many refugees in the country. The agreement is also widely viewed as creating the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Greek islands, which became a final destination for thousands of asylum seekers trapped in overcrowded camps waiting for their applications to be processed.

The inhumane conditions in refugee camps on the Greek islands are well documented, with reports of squalid facilities, violence, abuse and a lack of basic amenities commonplace. At times, there have been 40,000 people living in camps designed for a few thousand. As well as Syria, the majority of people are fleeing war and persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Palestine and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one in four are children. The horrific fire that engulfed the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on Lesvos in 2020, leaving 13,000 people without shelter, became a tragic symbol of Europe’s failed migration policy.

MSF has been operational on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios for many years, although it ceased operations inside Moria citing mass deportation and potential refoulement of asylum seekers and refugees. It no longer accepts EU funding in opposition to the policy.

“[The impact of the EU Turkey Deal] has been horrendous,” says Cornish. “There are still 15,000 people trapped in limbo, in no man’s land in Greece with no way forward and no way back, and suffering at the hands of supposed democracies.”

We see suicides, we see self-harm in children, we see long term PTSD and people with no hope, no ability to move forward or backward, trapped in punishment,” he says. “We put people in hell holes, and then when hell breaks loose, we pretend like we don’t see it.”

The deal has recently been extended until 2022, when the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum is expected to come into force. The New Pact focuses on fast-tracking screening and asylum processes at Europe’s external borders and includes a system of “mandatory solidarity” by which member states do not have to commit to resettling refugees but can instead fund repatriation. It has been widely criticised by humanitarian organisations for repeating the mistakes of the EU-Turkey Deal and failing to improve the situation for asylum seekers and refugees.

“Everything we’ve seen that failed in the US and failed in Australia, and is failing in Greece and Italy, we’d like to now make more semi-permanent policy,” says Cornish of the New Pact, which is currently being negotiated by member states and in the European Parliament. “As we harden these policies, all we do is push people into the hands of traffickers. We push them to take riskier routes and have higher death tolls and greater suffering.”

While the number of asylum seekers and migrants crossing the Mediterranean has decreased dramatically since 2015, migration has continued to be a highly politicised issue across Europe. Countries have adopted increasingly hostile policies which humanitarian organisations say fail to address flaws in existing systems, to the detriment of the people these systems were initially created to help.

Last week, the UK announced an overhaul of its asylum policy, which was met with outrage from humanitarian actors. Under the new plans, migrants and asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by routes deemed illegal will be indefinitely liable for removal even if they are granted asylum, creating a two-tier system which has been criticised as a violation of international law and eroding the right to asylum.

UK home secretary Priti Patel argues that current European policies “play into the hands of people smugglers”, however human rights and migration experts argue that, while governments fail to expand safe and legal routes, it is inhumane and unjust to punish asylum seekers for resorting to irregular routes when the only other option is an interminable wait in one of Europe’s refugee camps.

“Since a number of years [ago], we have made it almost impossible to be able to flee and request asylum from a conflict zone,” says Cornish. “We put all of these hurdles in place to make it impossible to be able to declare asylum and come [to Europe], and then we criminalise anybody jumping the line because we say they’re not following the procedures.”

Lessons from Australia. It has also been reported that asylum seekers in the UK could be shipped overseas while their asylum claim is pending – a policy that echoes Australia’s offshore processing asylum policy, instituted twice from 2001 to 2008 and 2012 to present.

Under the policy, asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in Australia by boat were immediately sent to offshore processing centres on the pacific islands of Manus and Nauru. The detention camps – which held over 2000 people at a time – have been widely condemned for systemic abuses and human rights violations. Although over 85 per cent of people sent to Nauru and Manus were recognised as refugees, the majority were left there for years awaiting resettlement.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian refugee who was detained on Manus Island for six years after attempting to reach Australia by boat in 2013, experienced the horror of Australia’s inhumane asylum policy first-hand. He spoke to Geneva Solutions ahead of the FIFDH event he took part in alongside Stephen Cornish.

“The dangerous side is that Australia is introducing this policy to countries in Europe, especially the UK,” says Boochani, who continued his work as a journalist writing for publications such as the Guardian from Manus. “Australia became a model for many of these countries. And for many years, we were warning about this, we were talking about it, but no one heard us.” [See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/55687980-7bdc-11e9-8427-f3aebfb2928e]

This policy damaged the political culture in Australia [and] the democracy in Australia,” says Boochani. “It damaged the principles in Australia and damaged morality in Australia. I think if the UK followed this policy, you cannot say that [you’ve] just damaged the refugees, you’ve damaged your principles, your democracy, your system, your morality, and your political culture too.

MSF’s Cornish shares Boochani’s concern that Europe’s asylum policies are damaging the democracy and social fabric of countries, partly fuelling the rise in far-right politics that has gained traction across the continent in recent years.

There have also been reports of mounting deportations and systemic violent pushbacks at Europe’s external land borders by the EU border agency Frontex. At sea, NGOs have also collected evidence of refugees being intercepted and illegally pushed back to Turkey from Greek waters. International human rights and refugee law requires states to protect the right of people to seek asylum and protection from refoulement even if they enter irregularly. The increasingly frequent pushbacks have prompted calls by the UN Refugee Agency for an urgent investigation.

Respecting human lives and refugee rights is not a choice, it’s a legal and moral obligation. While countries have the legitimate right to manage their borders in accordance with international law, they must also respect human rights. Pushbacks are simply illegal,” said UNHCR’s assistant commissioner for protection Gillian Triggs in a statement…

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/cornish-it-s-hard-to-imagine-how-saving-a-life-can-become-a-criminalised-activity

Mary Lawlor condemns ‘criminalization’ of those saving lives in the Mediterranean

October 9, 2020

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, and the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members are human rights defenders and not criminals,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on 8 October 2020.

“I regret that the criminal proceedings against them are still open and they continue to face stigmatization in connection with their human rights work protecting the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean Sea.

In September 2016, a criminal investigation was opened against some crew members of the Iuventa rescue ship. Charges against them included aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration, an offence that carries a jail term of between five and 20 years, and a fine of 15,000 euros. On 18 June 2019, a motion for the dismissal of the preliminary criminal investigation against the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members was filed, but a formal decision is still pending. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/absurd-prosecution-of-the-crew-of-the-ship-iuventa-continues-in-italy/

Ms. Rackete was arrested by Italian authorities on 29 June 2019 for docking her rescue ship, with 53 migrants on board, without permission. At the beginning of this year, acting upon appeal, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that she should not have been arrested. Despite this, Ms. Rackete continues to face charges, including aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration. She risks up to 20 years of imprisonment , and various fines of up to 50,000 euros.

Since 2014, at least 16,000 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean, according to the IOM’s ‘Missing Migrants’ project. “The Italian Government must publicly recognise the important role of human rights defenders in protecting the right to life of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean and must end the criminalization of those who defend their human rights,” Lawlor said.

The expert’s call has been endorsed by: Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Mr. Obiora Okafor, Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Dubravka Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Elizabeth Broderick, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

Ms Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/

The same day Human Rights Watch came out with an initial assessment by civil society of the legislative and non-legislative proposals contained in European Commission’s Pact on Migration and Asylum.: The commitment to a more human approach to protection and the emphasis on the fact that migration is needed and positive for Europe with which the European Commission launched the Pact on Migration and Asylum is welcome. However, this rhetoric is reflected only sparsely in the related proposals. Instead of breaking with the fallacies of the EU’s previous approach and offering a fresh start, the Pact risks exacerbating the focus on externalisation, deterrence, containment and return.


https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/08/pact-migration-and-asylum

Criminalisation of human rights defenders in Europe denounced in UN

September 30, 2020

 

In a statement delivered on 24 September 2020 in Geneva, ISHR was joined by human rights groups and other community organisations defending the rights of migrants to draw attention to the concerning trends of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe. Responding to the opening remarks of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and building on years of work by other experts in the UN system, the groups highlighted the links between protecting the rights of migrants, and the creation of a safe environment for those who seek to protect them. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/absurd-prosecution-of-the-crew-of-the-ship-iuventa-continues-in-italy/

ISHR human rights advocate Sarah M Brooks, pointing to research conducted by Migration Policy Group (MPG), CEPS, PICUM and other partners within the frame of the ReSOMA project, noted that in the last five years – from 2014 to 2019 – at least 60 cases of criminalisation, concerning more than 170 individuals, had been documented across the European Union.

Carmine Conte, legal policy analyst at MPG, underlines that since the emergence of the ‘refugee crisis’, there has been an escalation of judicial prosecutions and investigations against volunteers, human rights defenders, crew members of boats involved in search and rescue operations, but also ordinary citizens, journalists, mayors and religious leaders helping migrants.

The European Fundamental Rights Agency has also spoken out on this concern. In the area of migrant search and rescue (SAR) NGOs alone, in the two years between 2018 and 2020, experienced 40 cases of criminal charges, disciplining including administrative fines, de-flagging, seizure and confiscation of ships, or their crews were otherwise were prevented from leaving or docking at port. The Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights has recently condemned Malta and Italy using COVID-19 as yet another excuse for non-rescue:

The rights of migrants cannot be fulfilled, Brooks said, without protection of fundamental freedoms for those engaged in the defence of migrants’ rights. ‘Whether it is through humanitarian assistance and search-and-rescue, legal aid or policy advocacy, exercising the right to protest and civil disobedience – including migrants’ own strikes,’ she said, ‘these are protected acts. ‘European governments must do more to protect the right to defend rights.

Lina Vosyliute, Research Fellow at CEPS, one of the leading think-tanks on the EU affairs, has described the increasing suspicion, harrasment, disciplining and criminalisation of those who help migrants  as ‘policing humanitarianism’. At the heart of the problem are so-called  ‘crimes of facilitation of irregular migration’, which Vosyliute deems ‘the most misused criminal provision against human rights defenders in Europe’. The EU Facilitation Directive falls short of the UN Migrant Smuggling protocol, since it does not require any evidence nor suspicion of ‘financial or other material gain’. Under this provision in the EU and Schengen states introduced laws that prosecute ‘any intentional assistance’ to migrants, leaving out the question of motive and, specifically, ‘material or financial benefit’ that are central to smuggling crimes.

Vosyliute concludes, ‘The vague definition of crime is counterproductive. While some prosecutors are investigating on human traffickers or migrant smugglers, who take thousands of euros from asylum seekers and migrants to board on unseaworthy dinghies, others keep policing humanitarians and human rights defenders.’  The prosecutions of Sea Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete in Italy, Team Humanity and Proem Aid volunteers in Greece, or farmer Cedric Herrou in France [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/interview-with-cedric-herrou-migrants-rights-defender-who-is-the-central-person-in-the-film-libre/], and many others, who helped migrants out of compassion, are used by governments to rather show a strong stance against irregular migration, than to fight the crime.

But far more simple acts of solidarity are also being met with administrative, civil and even criminal penalty. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/new-amnesty-report-on-human-rights-defenders-helping-migrants/]

Says Marta Gionco of PICUM, a platform representing more than 160 organisations across Europe and globally that defend undocumented migrants’ human rights: ‘In recent years,  people across Europe have been put on trial for simple acts of human kindness: giving someone a ride in their car in a mountainous area so that they won’t get hypothermia; saving someone’s life who is drowning at sea; giving someone food or shelter; providing shelter and food; or lending a cell phone’.

In response to this trend, last year more than 110 organisations signed a statement asking the European Union to revise the EU Facilitation Directive and support and defend the rights of migrant rights’ defenders across the EU.

Although the majority of documented cases end in acquittal, the financial, social and psychological impact of months, and often years, of criminal proceedings has had a clear chilling effect on their work.

When courts have determined that an individual is not guilty of a crime, state prosecutors – for example, in France – have nonetheless appealed. In the case of defender Pierre Manoni, despite a court decision finding that solidarity is constitutionally protected, prosecutors have filed four separate appeals to question his acquittal on the grounds that he acted out of compassion.  Short-term detentions are also common, with police often failing to substantiate charges. These lengthy and expensive judicial proceedings put peoples’ lives on hold risk.

When these human rights defenders are migrants themselves, the consequences of criminal proceedings are often harsher, frequently resulting in loss of residence permits and threats of deportation. For instance, in 2018 asylum seekers in Moria camp protested in Sappho square after the death of an Afghan asylum seeker.  They were violently attacked by extreme right groups. However, it was not violent attackers, but the asylum seekers themselves who were prosecuted, for the ‘occupation’ of public space.

In another case, Ahmed H – a long-term resident in Cyprus – organised a protest at Hungarian border zone. He has been accused of terrorism-related crimes, for holding a megaphone, and deprived family life for four years. Time and again, asylum seekers and migrants helping each other during the journey are prosecuted as criminals. And in some cases, when they arrive in their destination country, this ‘criminal record’ alone can preclude the access to the right of asylum.

Brooks notes that the European Union, and many EU member states, have been powerful voices at the Human Rights Council and abroad in defending and supporting human rights defenders. However, when it comes to policies at home – often driven by border management mindsets and national security rationales – those same governments are engaged in judicial harassment of defenders.

As Front Line Defenders has noted, criminalisation is only one way in which migrant rights defenders are being targeted, including within Europe. They are also subjected to physical and verbal attacks, short term detention, smear campaigns and arson attacks on their property. Their experiences are largely under-reported because, the organisation notes, human rights defenders and aid workers prioritise cooperation with the authorities; even if it’s extremely fragile, it can be beneficial to the protection of migrants.

‘Judicial harassment, trumped-up charges, threats and intimidation and chilling effects are not unique to countries outside of Europe’s borders. It’s time that European governments took seriously their obligations at home’, Brooks asserts.

The right to help is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that, as the UN has emphasised, ’no one is left behind’.

Says CEPS’ Vosyliute: ‘Our newest study on civic space shows that the work of human rights defenders is ever more vital. Volunteers are sewing masks and distributing soap and hand sanitizer to stop the spread of the virus among various marginalized communities, like those in Moria refugee camp. At the same time, human rights defenders are even more at risk’.

Yet, COVID-19 restrictions are also disproportionately targeting refugees and other migrants and those who assist them. ‘For instance, in France, volunteers helping those stuck in Calais Jungle, received fines for violating social distancing rules. In Greece, some NGOs could not provide psychosocial counseling in camps due prolonged quarantine imposed on refugee camps, but not on the rest of the island. Italian and Maltese governments have  prevented SAR NGOs to disembark rescued migrants for weeks’.

Civil society actors have raised concerned over worsening legal environment. For instance, the Greek authorities have advanced additional registration requirements targeting NGOs working in the area of migration, asylum and integration.

According to the NGO law experts of the Council of Europe, those regulations are incompatible with the freedom of association – ‘onerous, complex, time-consuming and costly for NGOs’ – especially given the context and dire needs among asylum seekers and migrants.

European governments and the EU should be expected to uphold their human rights obligations to create and enabling environment for human rights defenders, as outlined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. A recent legal analysis of the so-called ‘Stop Soros’ legal package in Hungary, conducted by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP on behalf of ISHR and the Slovenia-based Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs (PiC), found that such an obligation exists for European governments in view of international and EU law.

At the same time, clear expectations have been set out by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose human rights watchdog, ODIHR, has called out dangers for human rights defenders in similar situations. As early as 2014, their guidelines on protection of human rights defenders alerted European states that ‘[any] legal provisions that directly or indirectly lead to the criminalisation of such [human rights] activities should be immediately amended or repealed’. More recently, the Council of Europe’s NGO Expert Council came up with Guidelines that seek to prevent the misuse of criminal law provisions against NGOs that assist migrants and uphold their rights.

‘The framework is there’, the groups conclude, ‘but Europe needs to choose to do more’.

Watch the statement here: https://youtu.be/ZHat_xPd2z8

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc45-criminalisation-defenders-europe-must-end

Absurd prosecution of the crew of the ship Iuventa continues in Italy

July 31, 2020

AI has started a campagiun to call on the Italian prosecutor to drop the absurd investigation against the crew of the rescue ship “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. 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

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.

[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

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.” .

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.”

Forensic Architecture reconstructionhttps://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/the-seizure-of-the-iuventa

BACKGROUND:

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.  https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/1828/2020/en/

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.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/italy-crew-of-rescue-ship-face-20-years-in-jail-on-third-anniversary-of-smuggling-investigation/