Judges Drop Case Against Migrant Taxi Ship Accused of Aiding Illegal Migration

The Italian Guardia di Finanza boat sails towards the Spanish migrant rescue NGO ship Open Arms to retrieve 27 unaccompanied minors and take them to the Italian island of Lampedusa on August 17, 2019. - Twenty-seven unaccompanied minors have been authorised to leave a migrant rescue vessel in limbo off …
ALESSANDRO SERRANO/AFP via Getty Images

A court in Ragusa, Sicily, has said it will not prosecute the captain and head of missions for the migrant transport NGO Open Arms for aiding illegal migration after it was accused of forcibly taking over a search and rescue mission from Tripoli officials near Libyan waters.

The incident occurred on March 15th, 2018, when the Open Arms ship intervened to pick up 218 migrants in waters off the Libyan coast. Retrieval operations had already been assumed by Libyan authorities, who intended to bring them to the nearest port in North Africa, resulting in a tense encounter between the Tripoli officers and the Spanish open borders activists.

The NGO ended up bringing the migrants ashore in Italy.

The activists claimed that the North African officials had threatened them, and therefore they could not hand over the migrants. Video footage seen by the court appeared to disprove the allegations, showing the Libyans merely asserting that they were in charge of the rescue operation.

Ragusa prosecutors had brought forward potential charges against captain Marc Reig Creus and mission chief Ana Isabel Montes Mier for aiding illegal immigration and for having forced Italian authorities to grant port to the ship. The judge on Wednesday said that “the NGO’s only real objective was not humanitarian, but… to bring them to Italy at any cost, regardless of the rules.”

Despite these findings, however, the judge threw out the case, saying that no crime had been committed, according to Il Giornale.

Open Arms, which has been operating in the Mediterranean to transport migrants from North Africa to Europe under the guise of humanitarianism for years, announced on Thursday that it would be conducting further operations.

The leader of the populist, anti-mass migration League (Lega) party, Matteo Salvini, clashed with Open Arms in August 2019 when, as interior minister, he refused to let 164 migrants disembark onto Italian soil. Mr Salvini, who was also acting as the country’s deputy prime minister, had enforced a strict policy of refusing migrant taxis entry to Italy, dramatically reducing the number of illegal aliens entering the country — and, consequently, drownings of migrants attempting to reach the European country.

However, after the collapse of the League’s coalition government with the left-leaning Five Star Movement (M5S), Senator Salvini lost his government position, and the new coalition between M5S and the left-establishment Democratic Party (PD) is in the process of undoing many of his pro-borders reforms.

In August, Italy’s Senate voted to lift parliamentary immunity for the senator, which could result in him facing trial for “kidnapping” migrants.

“I am proud to have defended Italy: I would do it again, and I will do it again, because this July alone the landings are six times those of the same period a year ago, when the League was in government,” Mr Salvini said.

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