Since August 22, 2007, seven Tunisian fishermen have been on trial before a court in Agrigento (Sicily), accused of "assisting illegal immigration", a crime punished by Italian law. They risk up to 15 years imprisonment.
Prosecuted as human traffickers, what they did was in fact just their basic duty of solidarity: on August 8, in the high sea near the island of Lampedusa, they picked up 44 passengers from a boat in distress at sea and brought them to the harbour. Without their intervention the shipwrecked people - including two pregnant women and two children - would propably have suffered the same fate as the thousands of migrants and refugees who have drowned over the last years while trying to reach the European coasts.
The trial in Agrigento is a new phase in the war EU leads against migrants and refugees. After the militarisation of the Andalusian coast ; after the dramatic events in Ceuta and Melilla in 2005 where several people were shot dead by the Moroccan police for trying to cross the Spanish border ; after the cordoning off of the coasts of Mauritania and Senegal to prevent crossings to the Canary Islands ; after the construction of detention camps where, as happens in Libya, the rights of refugees and migrants are trampled on ; today, it is the weapon of deterrence that is wielded.
By punishing the provision of assistance to people in danger, the Italian authorities force sailors and fishermen to breach the international law of the sea, which demands that they do everything in their power to rescue ships in distress. But that is not all : by criminalizing rescue operations, they make themselves responsible - in the best case scenario - for the deportation of people to countries where the rights of people in need of protection are not respected. At worst, they condemn to death women, men and children who have done nothing but to seek a better existence or even to save their lives.
Italy, a veritable laboratory for EU migration policy, has in 2005 deported hundreds of migrants by charter flights to Libyan jails. Today, Italy denies migrants access to its coasts, thereby implementing the logic of the externalisation of European border controls - of which the European agency Frontex is the standard bearing instrument.
We, agents of the civil societies of sub-Saharan Africa, of northern Africa and of Europe, activists and democrats from the south and north shores of the Mediterranean, demand the abolition of the ideology of security and repression that currently drives immigration policies through externalisation of asylum and border control and the criminalisation of migration. We oppose the "crime of solidarity" against defenders of human rights. We demand the release of the seven Tunisian fishermen of the boats Mortadha and Mohammed el-Hedi.
To sign the call : send an e-mail to Claire Rodier rodier (at) ras.eu.org