Proactiva Open Arms could face prison and €15k per rescued refugee
Three members of the Catalan NGO are under investigation in Italy for allegedly “fostering illegal immigration” and “criminal association”
Three members of the Catalan NGO Proactiva Open Arms under investigation in Italy for allegedly “fostering illegal immigration” and “criminal association” could face prison sentences of between 5 and 15 years, as well as a fine of 15,000 euros per each person saved in a rescue operation last Thursday, as reported by Catalan media. In total, 216 migrants were saved from drowning in the Mediterranean.
The refugee rescue ship of the organization is currently blocked in Sicily, awaiting a judicial decision on the alleged offenses. The director and founder of the NGO, Òscar Camps, warned on Monday that the organization doesn’t currently dispose of any other ship to effectively resume rescue operations.
“We tried to calm them down, but we couldn’t, Libyans threatened our lives, tensions rose, people fell into the water”
Òscar Camps · Proactiva Open Arms founder
Last Thursday, the Open Arms rescue ship received the location of a refugee boat from the Italian coastguards. They rescued 216 people, some of whom were in need of severe medical help. Although they were in international waters, Libyan coastguards then arrived with the aim of taking refugees back to Africa, and tensions rose quickly.
“We tried to calm them down, but we couldn’t,” said Camps. “Libyans threatened our lives, tensions rose, people fell into the water.”
The Libyan coastguards left after three hours, but the rescue ship remained at sea for more than a day, as no port authorised it to dock. Eventually, they were allowed to berth in south Sicily, but were later charged with criminal offenses by local prosecutors.
Proactiva Open Arms has rescued more than 26,500 people from drowning in the sea since starting its mission in the central Mediterranean in 2016, according to the NGO.
“Since we arrived in the port in Pozzallo [Sicily] we have cooperated with Italian authorities. We voluntarily responded to all their questions on Saturday, and provided all images, information and records of the ship’s communications,” said Open Arms in a press release on Tuesday.