Italian prosecutor investigates charities for human smuggling

TMP – 10/04/2017

The chief prosecutor of a Sicilian court is stepping up his investigation into suspicions that people smugglers from North Africa and humanitarian rescue boats on the Mediterranean, are working in cahoots.

Rescue vessels operated by charities have been accused of encouraging smugglers to send their human cargo across the Mediterranean, knowing that they will be rescued. The current investigation aims to collect evidence of smugglers and charity vesselscoordinating illegal voyages.

Prosecutors say they have migrant testimonies confirming that smugglers have been provided with coordinates to where rescue boats are located.

Sicilian prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro, who has been leading the probe is convinced smugglers and rescue vessels are in direct communication.

“I am convinced that it is not always the operational centre that calls on the NGOs,” he told a parliamentary committee on 22 March, referring to the navy centre in Rome which coordinates rescue operations around the central Mediterranean.

Italian admiral Enrico Credendino, commander of the EU’s anti-trafficking operation Sophia, also believes there might be an alliance between the smugglers and rescuers. He said that rescues use large floodlights deliberately to attract smugglers to sail in their direction.

Rescuers say they patrol near the Libyan coast to save lives because migrants are loaded onto flimsy, overcrowded dinghies, most of which collapse at sea shortly after departure.

Financed mainly through private donations, authorities have suspicions that money is being paid to charities by the smugglers for coordinated rescue missions. Last summer, many rescue operations were taking place off the coast of Libya including the German Sea Watch, Sea Eye and Jugend Rettet, as well as the Dutch Lifeboat Project, the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms and the Maltese Migrant Offshore Aid Station.

The court has been conducting an investigation and has not yet opened an official judicial inquiry. However, if the allegations of complicity with human smugglers are proven correct, the NGOs could be accused of coordinating and facilitating illegal migration from North Africa to Europe.