Saturday

20th Jul 2019

Germany shames Italy on migrant rescues

  • "Italy is not just one state: it is at the centre of the EU and it is a founding state," German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier said (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

Italy's recent handling of a migrant rescue ship was unbecoming of an EU founding state, Germany has said, prompting a backlash by Rome.

"It's possible that there are laws about when a ship can approach a port, but Italy is not just one state: It is at the centre of the EU and it is a founding state. Such a case must be dealt with in a different way," German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the ZDF broadcaster on Sunday (30 June).

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  • "We ask the German president to keep busy with what's happening in Germany," Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini said (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

"Those who save lives cannot be considered criminals," he added.

France also accused Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, of "instrumentalising" migrants for political ends.

"The Italian strategy is creating a hysterical debate with painful arguments. Salvini is instrumentalising this," Sibeth Ndiaye, a French government spokeswoman, told the LCI broadcaster.

They spoke after Italy tried to block a German charity called Sea-Watch from taking 53 rescued migrants to the port of Lampedusa in Sicily last week.

Carola Rackete, the captain of the Sea-Watch 3 rescue ship, entered the port anyway after bumping an Italian coastguard vessel parked in the way.

Italy then allowed 13 people to get off the boat for medical reasons.

It also said Germany, Finland, France, Luxembourg, and Portugal had agreed to take care of the other 40.

The Italian foreign minister, Enzo Moavero, voiced "sincere thanks".

But Italy has put Rackete on trial for "resisting a warship" and for breaking a new law on migrant rescues in charges that could end in a prison sentence and a hefty fine.

Salvini also hit back at Germany and France.

"We ask the German president to keep busy with what's happening in Germany and possibly invite his fellow citizens to avoid breaking Italian laws, risking the killing of Italy's law enforcement forces," he said on Twitter.

"Seeing the fact the French government, at least in words, is so generous with migrants, we will direct the next boats to Marseille [a French port]," he added.

The Sea-Watch 3 captain went to Italy for "political blackmail", Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte also said at a summit in Brussels.

She was a "common criminal", Germany's far-right AfD party said from Berlin.

Migrant politics

The political clashes on migrants in Europe have also seen central European states, such as Hungary and Poland, rebel against EU asylum decisions.

The clashes come despite the much lower numbers of people trying to make the sea-crossing compared to a few years ago.

And they are likely to continue, with a rescue boat from Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish charity, on its way with 40 more migrants to Lampedusa on Sunday evening.

For her part, Rackete, the German captain, defended her actions.

"My goal was only to bring exhausted and desperate people to shore. My intention was not to put anyone in danger," she said on her decision to bump the Italian coastguard boat.

Sea-Watch 3 had spent 17 days at sea, food was running out, and some of the rescued people were becoming suicidal, she added.

"They [the Italians] were asking me to take them back to Libya. From a legal standpoint, these were people fleeing a country at war [and] the law bars you from taking them back there," she said.

German public

Jan Boehmermann, a German comedian, and Klaas Heufer-Umlauf, a TV presenter, have launched an appeal to help pay Rackete's legal costs.

The initiative almost immediately raised €350,000 in a sign that the German public was on her side.

Salvini was "abusing rescuers" in order to "turn the mood against refugees, against the EU", Boehmermann said, echoing the French government comment.

"If it wasn't ... [for] Sea-Watch, I'd be a dead body," Isaac, a 21-year old man whom Rackete had rescued, told press.

"All we were afraid of was going back to Libya. She always said: 'No, do not worry about that' ... We say: 'Bravo, she is a good person'," 24-year old Khadim, whom she also rescued, said.

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