Italian judge frees NGO Proactiva’s Open Arms vessel

The Preliminary Investigative Judge of Ragusa, Giovanni Giampiccolo, has ordered the release of the Open Arms, a ship operated by the Spanish NGO Proactiva.

According to a Reuters report that had visibility of the court order, “the rescue on March 15 of 218 migrants off the Libyan coast by humanitarian group Proactiva Open Arms was justified because migrants face ‘grave violations of human rights’ in Libya. These include forced labour, rape, and detention without adequate food and health care”.

Last month the Council of the FCEI (Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy) announced that it would collaborate with NGO Proactiva to undertake maritime search and rescue activity in the name of the right to life and protection of refugees in a gravely vulnerable state.

FCEI President Pastor Luca Maria Negro explained that “in the face of thousands of refugees saved in recent months, solidarity and sea rescue should not be criminalised.”

A team from CTBI visited Mediterranean Hope projects in Sicily and Lampedusa in April 2017. We heard about the team’s welcome for refugees stepping off rescue vessels onto the quayside of Lampedusa harbour, providing blankets, food and warm drinks before buses took the newly arrived to the out-of-town registration centre.

In rejecting the request from the Public Prosecutor’s office, the Open Arms vessel – which has been docked in the port of Pozzallo, Ragusa since 18 March 2018 after rescuing at least 218 migrants at sea – should be freed within 24 hours.

Paolo Naso coordinates Mediterranean Hope’s Refugee and Migrant Programme. He expressed his deepest satisfaction with the legal decision.

“The Judge’s decision does justice to a very serious matter where other magistrates see solidarity and rescue at sea as a crime punishable by law, which even took the form of criminal association.

“For the FCEI this means that the collaboration already initiated between Mediterranean Hope and the Proactiva Open Arms charity can continue, both in the form of material support and in the presence of volunteers on board.”