Anti-trafficking laws used to prosecute aid workers helping migrants

Photo Credit: Getty Images / Carl Court

TMP – 01/12/2017

A six-month investigation by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has concluded that aid workers are being deliberately targeted throughout Europe, as countries use anti-trafficking laws to discourage humanitarian activity.

The Institute documented the prosecutions of 45 “humanitarian actors” under anti-smuggling or immigration laws over the past two years.
Examples include a 43-year-old woman in Switzerland, who The Guardian reports is known among refugees as Mother Teresa because of her work in providing food for those stranded on the Italian border. In September this year, the woman was given a fine and a suspended 80-day jail term for helping unaccompanied migrant children into the country.

Similarly, in France volunteers helping migrants in and around the Calais area report being regularly harassed by local authorities. In March, three French and British volunteers with charity Roya Citoyenne were arrested for distributing food to migrants.

The IRR report details an environment in which volunteers and aid workers are targeted and punished for providing food, shelter and clean water to migrants.
The EU’s border force, Frontex, has accused aid groups of working with traffickers to bring migrants across the Mediterranean. In turn, the report criticises senior Frontex officials for “attempts to bully and delegitimise” NGO search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

The IRR said it would write to the European commission urging it to reassert support for humanitarian values and provide a mandatory exemption from criminalisation for humanitarian groups.