• From Sea To Prison. The Criminalization of Boat Drivers in Italy

    Freedom of movement is a right, not a crime. But over the past decade, Italy has arrested thousands of people in connection with driving migrant boats across the Mediterranean Sea. Our report describes their journeys from sea to prison, examining and taking a stand against the criminalization of migration.

    Italy has spent decades pursuing people who have done nothing other than drive a boat of migrants towards its shores, utilizing criminal law, undercover police operations and emergency anti-Mafia powers to re-enforce Europe’s border regime.

    We have spoken to hundreds of people involved – persons accused of boat driving, ex-prisoners, lawyers, researchers, activists, judges and members of the police and Coast Guard – and studied dozens of court sentences to reveal the full extent of Italy’s process of criminalizing migration.
    Life sentences

    The prison sentences that have been issued range from 2 years to 20 years – and sometimes even more. Of the nearly 1,000 cases we have discovered through a systematic media review, we have found 24 people with prison sentences of over 10 years, and 6 people who have received life sentences.
    Imprisoning refugees

    Boat drivers come from many countries, and are often migrants and refugees too. In 2018 and 2019, the police arrested around one person for every hundred migrants who arrived.

    From a review of nearly one thousand cases, we estimate that over a third of the arrestees are from North Africa, 20% from Eastern Europe and 20% from West Africa. Many of the West and North African citizens arrested and imprisoned in Italy were forced to drive boats from Libya, a country they were fleeing from. In the case of the Eastern European boat drivers, many recount that they were tricked into people smuggling.
    Criminalization causes deaths

    Italy, the EU and the UN have consistently claimed that arresting boat drivers is a way of cracking down on human smuggling, in order to prevent deaths at sea. But our report demonstrates that criminalizing boat drivers has actually contributed to some of the worst maritime disasters in recent history.
    Our report examines:

    – available official data on the arrest and imprisonment of boat drivers
    - nearly 1,000 cases reported by the Italian media over the last 10 years
    - how the Italian law has been consistently modified over the last 25 years to criminalize and persecute boat drivers
    - the different kinds of boat drivers punished under the law, including those forced to drive boats under threats and violence
    - how all the sea routes into Italy have been criminalized: from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Greece and Albania
    - how boat drivers are identified at sea on the basis of faulty photography and unreliable witnesses
    - court cases that fail to protect the rights of arrestees, sentencing people on flimsy evidence with little access to defense
    - how the Italian prison system fails to protect the rights of foreign prisoners, and how boat drivers are prevented from accessing house arrest
    – the social and economic consequences for boat drivers after leaving prison – even if they are found innocent

    Our report demonstrates that:

    – criminalization of migrant boat drivers in Italy has consistently increased over the last 25 years, especially since 2015.
    - criminalizing boat drivers does not prevent deaths at sea – it contributes to shipwrecks and maritime disasters
    - the consequences of being arrested as a boat driver has a serious impact on people’s lives – even if the charges are dropped
    - the rights of imprisoned boat drivers are being overlooked: contact with families is often non-existent, there are almost no translators in the Italian prison system, and access to adequate defense is not protected.

    #Italie #scafisti #criminalisation #asile #migrations #réfugiés #frontières #Méditerranée #Mer_Méditerranée #criminalisation_de_la_migration
    #rapport #ARCI_Porco_Rosso

    • Migrants: thousands of boat drivers arrested in Italy, new report shows

      Exclusive new report by activists and NGOs reveals scale of Europe’s attack on migration.

      More than 2,500 people have been arrested in Italy for people smuggling over the last 10 years, even when they have done nothing more than drive a boat across the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of them are languishing in prisons across Italy, a report released today by ARCI Porco Rosso and Alarm Phone demonstrates.

      It is the first time that public data on arrests of boat drivers has been pulled together and analyzed. Over the past year, Italian police have arrested as many as one migrant for every 100 people who have arrived in Italy by sea, accusing them of ‘facilitating illegal immigration’, a crime that can lead to 15 years imprisonment and millions of Euros in fines. In some cases – when migrants have died during the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea – prison sentences have reached 30 years or even life

      The report reviews around 1,000 cases of migrants who have been arrested for people smuggling. Italian law says that anyone who helps migrants enter the country irregularly can face years in prison – even if the accused have done nothing more than drive a boat, and even if they too are migrants.

      Cheikh Sene, a community organizer with ‘Porco Rosso’, who worked on the report, said:
      “I did two years in prison for driving a boat. I saved those people’s lives, we had no choice. Now we want to fight for the freedom and human rights of
      other migrants unjustly in prison."

      “Migrants come to Europe because Europeans are in our countries, everyone should have the right to move where they want to, we’re all humans”, Sene continued.
      The authors spoke to a hundred people for the research - including dozens of criminalized boat drivers, as well as lawyers, judges, members of the Italian Coast
      Guard and prison workers.

      Many migrants are found guilty even when court evidence is extremely weak, the report details. Maria Giulia Fava, a paralegal who co-wrote the report, said:
      “These are politically charged trials. In the man-hunt for a scapegoat, someone to blame for the death and disaster, normal guarantees of a fair
      trial are set aside. The very principles that should be the foundation of criminal law are simply forgotten.”

      The imprisoned migrants come from many different countries. Today’s report estimates that 35% come from North Africa, 20% from West African countries, and
      another 20% from Eastern Europe. These include people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Libya, Senegal, Syria and Ukraine.

      The criminalization of migrant boat drivers is part of an increasingly worrying trend in Italy as well as the rest of Europe, where both migrants and those in solidarity with them, including NGO rescue ships, have been subjected to criminal investigations.

      Sara Traylor, an activist from ‘Alarm Phone’ commented:
      “Criminalizing migration is simply part of a violent border system that we need to abolish. Europe needs to acknowledge and take responsibility for its unjust and deadly migration policies, and the consequences these have on the lives of the people they affect. Sending people to jail isn’t going to stop migration or make it any safer.”

      Read the report online: fromseatoprison.info

      For questions on the report or a comment on the findings, contact Richard at
      arciporcorosso@gmail.com or on +393245820120.

      ARCI Porco Rosso is a cultural center and migrant solidarity project in Palermo, Italy.
      Alarm Phone is a transnational network of activists that run a hotline to support people in distress in the Mediterranean Sea.

    • The African migrants who Italy accuses of people smuggling

      In our series of letters from African journalists, Ismail Einashe meets a young Senegalese man who was accused of people smuggling soon after he survived crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

      The 16-year-old from Senegal was relieved to have landed safely in Sicily - staying in what he thought was a migrant reception centre.

      This was in 2015, after he had survived a perilous boat journey from Libya. But two days into his stay he became concerned that the doors to his room were locked shut.

      Unwittingly, in fact, Moussa - whose name has been changed to protect his identity - found himself in prison in Trapani, a port city in the west of the Italian island.

      “This can’t be, I got to Italy and ended up straight in prison. I am 16,” he thought to himself.

      He could not believe what had happened to him - this was not the Europe he had dreamt about before he embarked on the arduous journey from Senegal in search of a better life.

      Moussa would go on to spend almost two years in an adult prison on charges of people smuggling even though he was a minor.

      His case is far from unique.

      In the last decade more than 2,500 people have been arrested in Italy on the same charges, according to a recent report by Palermo-based non-governmental organisation Arci Porco Rosso.

      Those arrested in Italy are accused of aiding and abetting illegal migration, a crime that can result in up to 20 years imprisonment and huge fines.
      ’Used as scapegoats’

      Hundreds of innocent migrants are currently locked up waiting for the legal process to be concluded, according to Maria Giulia Fava, a paralegal who co-authored the report.

      She says that Italy is using people-smuggling laws to criminalise migrants and refugees in an attempt to scapegoat them over immigration levels.

      Migrants are charged on extremely weak evidence, she adds, court hearings are rarely open, there is a lack of adequate access to legal defence, evidence can be based on unreliable witnesses and minors can end up in the adult prison system.

      Cheikh Sene knows the system well.

      He is now a Senegalese community organiser in Sicily’s main city, Palermo, but spent two years in prison after being found guilty of aiding people smuggling and says that many migrants are unjustly kept in prison simply for saving lives at sea. He says that is what happened to him.

      Arci Porco Rosso also states in its report that it came across cases in which Italian police officers offered migrants documents in exchange for their testimony against alleged boat drivers.

      The Italian Ministry of Justice told the BBC that it could not provide information on trials or arrests, but it did provide data on those currently held in prisons on people-smuggling charges. As of 22 March, it said, there were 952 inmates, of which 562 were convicted in Italy for people smuggling

      However, the ministry did not respond to the allegations made in the Arci Porco Rosso report.
      ’Minors in adults prisons’

      In Moussa’s case when his boat landed in Trapani, he was left to disembark and waited with others who arrived at the port for a bus to take them into town.

      But as he stood there he was called over by an Italian official.

      "They asked me to follow them inside. They gave me a paper, and took a picture.

      “Then they made me get in a big car and drove me away. The trip lasted more than two hours, and then they took me to an office.”

      It turned out to be a police station where he was interviewed through a French-speaking Moroccan translator.

      She explained to him that two fellow passengers on the boat had accused him of having steered the vessel.

      He pleaded to know who these two people were, as he could not understand the allegation, but she told him she was a translator and not a lawyer.

      The next morning he was put in a police car.

      “I didn’t know I was being taken to prison. I thought it was a reception centre.”

      He tried to explain that he was a minor. In the prison, he says he had two scans to determine his age. One assessment found that he was a minor, while the other did not.

      Because the results were inconclusive he was placed in an adult prison.

      And he says he was not alone in this. He remembers other young African migrants his age and younger in prison with him.

      He recalls meeting plenty of Gambians, Tunisians, Nigerians and Malians.
      Missed father’s death

      It was nine months before he was able to call his family in Senegal who had presumed he was dead.

      A few months later, on a second call, he found out that his father had passed away.

      In prison he was at least able to study for his Italian middle school qualifications and dreamt of escaping prison.

      Finally, in spring 2017, Moussa got an appeal court hearing date in Palermo.

      But when he walked into the courtroom the judge stood up and said he could not preside over the case of a minor.

      Then, three days later, in the small hours of the morning, guards came to his cell and told him to pack up as he was being released.

      “They walked me to the door and closed it behind me. I was standing there, with a plastic bin bag full of my clothes.”

      He had no idea where to go and one of the guards suggested he take the road and wait until he found other Africans to ask for advice on what he should do.

      That night he arrived at the Piazza Vittoria square in Trapani. There he met some Senegalese who told him to head to Volpita, a migrant camp.

      Eventually Moussa left Volpita after hearing he could make money by picking olives somewhere else.

      After spending many months working there he settled in the popular tourist town of Cefalù, near Palermo, where he now works as a chef in a hotel.

      But his case has not been addressed yet and he remains in a distressing legal limbo.

      His documents have also expired and he is waiting for a new court date.

      As Moussa explains his predicament six years after arriving in Italy he becomes overwhelmed - traumatised by what he had been through. He simply wants the nightmare to end.