• Jury convicts #Ibrahima_Bah : Statement from Captain Support UK

    Following a three-week trial, Ibrahima Bah, a teenager from Senegal, has been convicted by an all-white jury at Canterbury Crown Court. The jury unanimously found him guilty of facilitating illegal entry to the UK, and by a 10-2 majority of manslaughter by gross negligence. This conviction followed a previous trial in July 2023 in which the jury could not reach a verdict.

    Ibrahima’s prosecution and conviction is a violent escalation in the persecution of migrants to ‘Stop the Boats’. Observing the trial has also made it clear to us how anti-black racism pervades the criminal ‘justice’ system in this country. The verdict rested on the jury’s interpretation of generic words with shifting meanings such as ‘reasonable’, ‘significant’, and ‘minimal’. Such vagueness invites subjective prejudice, in this case anti-black racist profiling. Ibrahima, a teenage survivor, was perceived in the eyes of many jurors to be older, more mature, more responsible, more threatening, with more agency, and thus as more ‘guilty’.
    Why Ibrahima was charged

    Ibrahima was arrested in December 2022 after the dinghy he was driving across the Channel broke apart next to the fishing vessel Arcturus. Four men are known to have drowned, and up to five are still missing at sea. The court heard the names of three of them: Allaji Ibrahima Ba, 18 years old from Guinea who had travelled with Ibrahima from Libya and who Ibrahima described as his brother; Hajratullah Ahmadi, from Afghanistan; and Moussa Conate, a 15 year old from Guinea.

    The jury, judge, defense, and prosecution agreed the shipwreck and resultant deaths had multiple factors. These included the poor construction of the boat, water ingress after a time at sea, and later everyone standing up to be rescued causing the floor of the dinghy ripping apart. A report by Alarm Phone and LIMINAL points to other contributing factors, including the lack of aerial surveillance, the failure of the French to launch a search and rescue operation when first informed of the dinghy’s distress, and the skipper of Arcturus’ delay in informing Dover Coastguard of the seriousness of the wreck. Nonetheless, the Kent jury has decided to exclusively punish a black teenaged survivor.

    What the jury heard

    Many of the other survivors, all of whom claimed asylum upon reaching the UK, testified that Ibrahima saved their lives. At the moment the dinghy got into danger, Ibrahima steered it towards the fishing vessel which rescued them. He was also shown holding a rope to keep the collapsed dinghy alongside the fishing vessel while others climbed onboard. One survivor told the court that Ibrahima “was an angel”.

    The story told by witnesses not on the dinghy contrasted greatly to that of the asylum seekers who survived. Ray Strachan, the captain of the shipping vessel Arcturus offered testimony which appeared particularly prejudiced. He described Ibrahima using racist tropes – “mouthy”, not grateful enough following rescue, and as behaving very unusually. He complained about the tone in which Ibrahima asked the crew to rescue his drowning friend Allaji, who Strachan could only describe as being “dark brown. What can you say nowadays? He wasn’t white.” Strachan also has spoken out in a GB News interview against what he considers to be the “migrant taxi service” in the Channel, and volunteered to the jury, “It wasn’t my decision to take them to Dover. I wanted to take them back to France.” This begs the question of whether Strachan’s clearly anti-migrant political opinions influenced his testimony in a way which he felt would help secure Ibrahima’s conviction. It also raises the question if jury members identified more with Strachan’s retelling than the Afghans who testified through interpreters, and to what extent they shared some of his convictions.

    When Ibrahima took the stand to testify in his defense he explained that he refused to drive the rubber inflatable after he was taken to the beach and saw its size compared to the number of people expecting to travel on it. He told how smugglers, who had organised the boat and had knives and a gun, then assaulted him and forced him to drive the dinghy. The other survivors corroborated his testimony and described the boat’s driver being beaten and forced onboard.

    The prosecutor, however, sought to discredit Ibrahima, cross-examining him for one-and-a-half days. He demonised Ibrahima and insisted that he was personally responsible for the deaths because he was driving. Ibrahima’s actions, which survivors testified saved their lives, were twisted into dangerous decisions. His experiences of being forced to drive the boat under threat of death, and following assault, were disbelieved. The witness stand became the scene of another interrogation, with the prosecutor picking over the details of Ibrahima’s previous statements for hours.

    Ibrahima’s account never waivered. Yes he drove the dinghy, he didn’t want to, he was forced to, and when they got into trouble he did everything in his power to save everybody on board.
    Free Ibrahima!

    We have been supporting, and will continue to support, Ibrahima as he faces his imprisonment at the hands of the racist and unjust UK border regime.

    This is a truly shocking decision.

    We call for everybody who shares our anger to protest the unjust conviction of Ibrahima Bah and to stand in solidarity with all those incarcerated and criminalised for seeking freedom of movement.


    #scafista #scafisti #UK #Angleterre #criminalisation_de_la_migration #migrations #réfugiés #procès #justice #condamnation #négligence #Stop_the_Boats #verdict #naufrage #responsabilité #Arcturus


      New research shows how people arriving on small boats are being imprisoned for their ‘illegal arrival’. Among those prosecuted are people seeking asylum, victims of trafficking and torture, and children with ongoing age disputes.

      This research provides broader context surrounding the imprisonment of Ibrahima Bah, a Senegalese teenager, who has recently been found ‘guilty’ of both facilitating illegal entry and manslaughter. He was sentenced to 9 years and 6 months imprisonment on Friday 23rd February. In their statement, Captain Support UK argue that “Ibrahima’s prosecution and conviction is a violent escalation in the persecution of migrants to ‘Stop the Boats’.”

      The research

      This report, published by the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford and Border Criminologies, shows how people have been imprisoned for their arrival on a ‘small boat’ since the Nationality and Borders Act (2022) came into force. It details the process from sea to prison, and explains how this policy is experienced by those affected. Analysis is based on observations of over 100 hearings where people seeking asylum were prosecuted for their own illegal arrival, or for facilitating the arrival of others through steering the dinghy they travelled on. The report is informed by the detailed casework experience of Humans for Rights Network, Captain Support UK and Refugee Legal Support. It also draws on data collected through Freedom of Information requests, and research interviews with lawyers, interpreters, and people who have been criminalised for crossing the Channel on a ‘small boat’.


      In late 2018, the number of people using dinghies to reach the UK from mainland Europe began to increase. Despite Government claims, alternative ‘safe and legal routes’ for accessing protection in the UK remain inaccessible to most people. There is no visa for ‘seeking asylum’, and humanitarian routes to the UK are very restricted. For many, irregular journeys by sea have become the only way to enter the UK to seek asylum, safety, and a better life.

      Soon after the number of people arriving on small boats started to increase, the Crown Prosecution Service began to charge those identified as steering the boats with the offences of ‘illegal entry’ or ‘facilitation’. These are offences within Section 24 and Section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971. However, in 2021, a series of successful appeals overturned these prosecutions. This was on the basis that if the people on a small boat intended to claim asylum at port, there was no breach of immigration law through attempted ‘illegal entry’. The Court of Appeal found that those who arrive by small boat and claim asylum do not enter illegally, as they are granted entry as an asylum seeker.

      In response, in June 2022, the Nationality and Borders Act expanded the scope of criminal offences relating to irregular arrival to the UK. First, the offence of ‘illegal arrival’ was introduced, with a maximum sentence of 4 years. Second, the offence of ‘facilitation’ was expanded to include circumstances in which ‘gain’ was difficult to prove, and the maximum sentence was increased from 14 years to life imprisonment. During Parliamentary debates, members of both Houses of Parliament warned that this would criminalise asylum seeking to the UK.

      Who has been prosecuted since the Nationality and Borders Act (2022)?

      New data shows that in the first year of implementation (June 2022 – June 2023), 240 people arriving on small boats were charged with ‘illegal arrival’ off small boats. While anyone arriving irregularly can now be arrested for ‘illegal arrival’, this research finds that in practice those prosecuted either:

      – Have an ‘immigration history’ in the UK, including having been identified as being in the country, or having attempted to arrive previously ( for example, through simply having applied for a visa), or,
      – Are identified as steering the dinghy they travelled in as it crossed the Channel.

      49 people were also charged with ‘facilitation’ in addition to ‘illegal arrival’ after allegedly being identified as having their ‘hand on the tiller’ at some point during the journey. At least two people were charged with ‘facilitation’ for bringing their children with them on the dinghy.

      In 2022, 1 person for every 10 boats was arrested for their alleged role in steering. In 2023, this was 1 for every 7 boats. People end up being spotted with their ‘hand on the tiller’ for many reasons, including having boating experience, steering in return for discounted passage, taking it in turns, or being under duress. Despite the Government’s rhetoric, both offences target people with no role in organised criminal gangs.

      The vast majority of those convicted of both ‘illegal arrival’ and ‘facilitation’ have ongoing asylum claims. Victims of torture and trafficking, as well as children with ongoing age disputes, have also been prosecuted. Those arrested include people from nationalities with a high asylum grant rate, including people from Sudan, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, and Syria.

      Those imprisoned are distressed and harmed by their experiences in court and prison

      This research shows how court hearings were often complicated and delayed by issues with interpreters and faulty video link technology. Bail was routinely denied without proper consideration of each individual’s circumstances. Those accused were usually advised to plead guilty to ‘illegal arrival’ at the first opportunity to benefit from sentence reductions, however, this restricted the possibility of legal challenge.

      Imprisonment caused significant psychological and physical harm, which people said was particularly acute given their experiences of displacement. The majority of those arrested are imprisoned in HMP Elmley. They frequently reported not being able to access crucial services, including medical care, interpretation services including for key documents relating to their cases, contact with their solicitors, immigration advice, as well as work and English lessons. People shared their experiences of poor living conditions, inadequate food, and routine and frequent racist remarks and abuse from prison staff as ‘foreign nationals’.

      Children with age disputes are being imprisoned for their arrival on small boats

      Research (see, for example, here) by refugee support organisations has highlighted significant flaws in the Home Office’s age assessment processes in Dover, resulting in children being aged as adults, and treated as such. One consequence of this is that children with ongoing age disputes have been charged as adults with the offences of ‘illegal arrival’ and ‘facilitation’ for their alleged role in steering boats across the Channel.

      Humans for Rights Network has identified 15 age-disputed children who were wrongly treated as adults and charged with these new offences, with 14 spending time in adult prison. This is very likely to be an undercount. The Home Office fails to collect data on how many people with ongoing age disputes are convicted. These young people have all claimed asylum, and several claim (or have been found to be) survivors of torture and/or trafficking. The majority are Sudanese or South Sudanese, who have travelled to the UK via Libya.

      Throughout the entirety of the criminal process, responsibility lay with the child at every stage to reject their ‘given’ age and reassert that they are under 18. Despite this, the Courts generally relied on the Home Office’s ‘given age’, without recognition of evidence highlighting clear flaws in these initial age enquiries. Children who maintained that they were under 18 in official legal proceedings faced substantial delays to their cases, due to the time required by the relevant local authority to carry out an age assessment, and delays to the criminal process. Due to this inaction, several children have decided to be convicted and sentenced as adults to try to avoid spending additional time in prison.

      These young people have experienced serious psychological and physical harm in adult courts and prisons, raising serious questions around the practices of the Home Office, Border Force, Ministry of Justice, magistrates and Judges, the CPS, defence lawyers, and prison staff.

      Pour télécharger le rapport :
      Full report:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2024-02/No%20such%20thing%20as%20justice%20here_for%20publication.pdf
      Summary : https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2024-02/SUMMARY_No%20such%20thing%20as%20justice%20here_for%20publication.pd


    • Ibrahima Bah was sentenced to nine years for steering a ‘death trap’ dinghy across the Channel. Was he really to blame?

      The young asylum seeker was forced into piloting the boat on which at least four people drowned. Under new ‘stop the boats’ laws, he’s responsible for their deaths – but others say he’s a victim

      In the dock at Canterbury crown court, Ibrahima Bah listened closely as his interpreter told him he was being sentenced to nine years and six months in prison.

      In December 2022, Bah had steered an inflatable dinghy full of passengers seeking asylum in the UK across the Channel from France. The boat collapsed and four people were confirmed drowned – it is thought that at least one other went overboard, but no other bodies have yet been recovered.

      Bah’s conviction – four counts of gross negligence manslaughter and one of facilitating a breach of immigration law – is the first of its kind. The Home Office put out a triumphant tweet after his sentencing, with the word “JAILED” in capital letters above his mugshot. According to the government, Bah’s sentence is proof that it is achieving one of Rishi Sunak’s main priorities: to “Stop the Boats”. But human rights campaigners are less jubilant and fear his conviction will be far from the last.

      Of the 39 passengers who survived that perilous journey in December 2022, about a dozen were lone children. Bah is a young asylum seeker himself, from Senegal. The judge determined he is now 20; his birth certificate says he is 17. Either way, he was a teenager at the time of the crossing. So how did his dream of a new life in the UK end up here, in this courtroom, being convicted of multiple counts of manslaughter?

      As with so many asylum seekers, details about Bah’s life are hazy and complicated. He has had little opportunity to speak to people since he arrived in the UK because he has been behind bars. His older sister, Hassanatou Ba, who lives in Morocco, says the whole family is devastated by his imprisonment, especially their mother. Hassanatou says her brother – the only son in the family, and the only male after the death of their father – has always been focused on helping them all.

      “He is gentle, kind and respectful, and loves his family very much,” she says. “He always wanted to take care of all of us. He knew about the difficulties in our lives and wanted our problems to stop.”

      In court, the judge, Mr Justice Johnson KC, noted that Bah’s early upbringing was difficult and that he was subjected to child labour. His initial journey from Senegal was tough, too, as he travelled to the Gambia, then Mali (where the judge acknowledged he had been subjected to forced labour), Algeria and Libya before crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe. The risk of drowning in a flimsy and overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean is extremely high, with more than 25,000 deaths or people missing during the crossing since 2014. The Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority found there were reasonable grounds to conclude Bah was a victim of modern slavery based on some of his experiences on his journey. He told the police the boat journey was “terrifying”, and took four days and four nights in an “overcrowded and unsuitable” vessel.

      Bah and his fellow travellers were rescued and taken to Sicily. From there, he travelled to France and met Allaji Ba, 18, from Guinea, who became his friend and who he has described as his “brother”. The pair spent five months in Bordeaux before travelling to Paris, then Calais, then Dunkirk, spending three months in an area known as the Jungle – a series of small, basic encampments. The refugees who live there are frequently uprooted by French police. The vast original Calais refugee encampment – also known as the Jungle – was destroyed in October 2016, but the camps still exist, albeit in more compact and makeshift forms. Some people have tents, while others sleep in the open air, whatever the weather.

      In the Jungle, Bah met a group of smugglers. He was unable to pay the going rate of about £2,000 for a space on a dinghy to come to the UK, so instead he agreed to steer the boat in exchange for free passage. Smugglers don’t drive boats themselves: they either offer the job to someone like Bah, who can’t afford to pay for their passage; force a passenger to steer; or leave it to the group to share the task between them.

      When Bah saw how unseaworthy and overcrowded the boat was, he refused to pilot it, and in court, the judge accepted there was a degree of coercion by the smugglers. Bah said smugglers with a knife and a gun assaulted him, and other survivors corroborated his account of being beaten after refusing to board the boat.

      Once the dinghy was afloat, survivors have said the situation became increasingly terrifying. Out at sea, under a pitch black sky, the dinghy began taking in water up to knee level. It was when the passengers saw a fishing vessel, Arcturus, that catastrophe struck, with some standing up, hoping that at last they were going to be saved from what they believed was certain drowning.

      At Bah’s trial, witnesses gave evidence about his efforts to save lives by manoeuvring the stricken dinghy towards the fishing trawler, so that people could be rescued.

      One witness said that if it hadn’t been for Bah, everyone on board would have drowned. “He was trying his best,” he said. Another survivor called him an “angel” for his efforts to save lives, holding a rope so others could be hoisted to safety on the fishing vessel and putting the welfare of others first. The judge acknowledged that Bah was one of the last to leave the dinghy and tried to help others after he did so, including his friend Ba, “who tragically died before your eyes”.

      The dinghy was described by the judge as a “death trap”; he also recognised that the primary responsibility for what happened that night rests with the criminal gangs who exploit and endanger those who wish to come to the UK. He noted that Bah was “significantly less culpable” than the gangs and did not coerce other passengers or organise the trip.

      “Everything that has happened to Ibrahima since he was forced to drive the boat in 2022 has been bad luck,” says Hassanatou. “In fact, Ibrahima’s whole journey has been suffering on top of suffering.”

      Had Bah made the journey just a few months earlier, he would not be in this courtroom today. His conviction was made possible by recent changes in the law – part of the Conservative government’s clampdown on small boats. In June 2022, the Nationality and Borders Act (NABA) expanded the scope of criminal offences relating to irregular arrival to the UK. The offence of “illegal arrival” was introduced, with a maximum sentence of four years. This criminalises the act of arriving in the UK to claim asylum – and effectively makes claiming asylum impossible since, by law, you have to be physically in the country to make a claim.

      At the same time, the pre-existing offence of “facilitation” – making it possible for others to claim asylum by piloting a dinghy, for example – was expanded, with the maximum sentence increased from 14 years to life imprisonment. Hundreds of people, including children and victims of torture and smuggling, have subsequently been jailed for the first offence and a handful for the second.

      The reasons Bah and thousands of others are forced into this particularly deadly form of Russian roulette on the Channel is due to government policy not to provide safe and legal routes for those who are fleeing persecution. Last year, the government went further than NABA with the Illegal Migration Act, making any asylum claim by someone arriving by an “irregular” means, such as on a small boat, inadmissible. It is hard to overstate the significance of this change. The right to claim asylum was enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention after the horrors of the second world war – and has saved many lives. The UK is still signed up to that convention, but the Illegal Migration Act now makes it almost impossible to exercise that essential right, and has been strongly criticised by the UN.

      None of these legal changes are stopping the boats. Although the number of Channel crossings fell by 36% last year, much of that reduction was due to 90% fewer crossings by Albanians (there had been a spike in the numbers of Albanians coming over in 2022). Those fleeing conflict zones are still crossing in large numbers, and according to a report by the NGO Alarm Phone, measures introduced to stop the boats are likely to have increased the number of Channel drownings.

      Most asylum seekers do not seek sanctuary in the UK but instead head to the nearest safe country. Those who do come here often have family in the UK, or speak English. The decisions people make before stepping into a precarious dinghy on a beach in northern France are not a result of nuanced calculations based on the latest law to pass through parliament. “I come or I die,” one Syrian asylum seeker told me recently, when I asked about his decision to make a high-risk boat crossing after experiencing torture in his home country.

      Some lawyers who have followed Bah’s case and the broader implications of the new legislation are worried about these developments. “There is now no legal way to claim asylum,” one lawyer says.

      “The use of manslaughter in these circumstances is completely novel and demonstrates how pernicious the new laws are. It is the most vulnerable who end up piloting the boats and asylum seekers have no knowledge that the law has changed.”

      Bah’s case has also caused consternation among campaigners. “The conviction of Ibrahima Bah demonstrates a violent escalation in the prosecution of people for the way in which they arrive in the UK,” reads a joint statement from Humans for Rights Network and Refugee Legal Support, two of the organisations supporting Bah. They also point out that Bah had already spent 14 months in prison without knowing how long he would remain there, after a previous trial against him last year collapsed when the jury failed to reach a verdict.

      “He too is a survivor of the shipwreck he experienced in December 2022,” the statement continues. “Imprisonment has severely impacted his mental health and will continue to do so while he is incarcerated. Ibrahima navigated a horrific journey to the UK in the hope of finding safety here through the only means available to him and yet he has been punished for the deaths of others seeking the same thing, sanctuary.”

      The organisation Captain Support is helping 175 people who face prosecution as a result of the new laws to find legal representation. A letter-writing campaign calling for Bah to be freed has been launched.

      Hassanatou says she is struggling to comprehend the UK’s harsh laws towards people like her little brother, and she fears his age will make it particularly difficult for him to cope behind bars. He will be expected to serve two-thirds of his sentence in custody, first in a young offenders’ institute and then in an adult jail.

      In his sentencing remarks the judge said to Bah: “This is also a tragedy for you. Your dream of starting a new life in the UK is in tatters.”


  • Senza frontiere: La criminalizzazione dei cosiddetti #scafisti nel 2023

    1. Dati e monitoraggio della cronaca
    Numero di fermi

    Come negli anni precedenti, nel 2023 abbiamo monitorato sistematicamente la cronaca sulle notizie degli arresti dei cosiddetti scafisti. Abbiamo registrato 177 arresti negli ultimi 12 mesi (rispetto ai 171 arresti nel 2021 e ai 261 arresti nel 2022). Una dichiarazione di Piantedosi che sostiene che “550 scafisti” sono stati arrestati nel biennio 2022-23 – visto che nell’aprile il governo ha rivendicato c. 350 fermi per 2022 – ci fa stimare un totale di 200 fermi nel 2023. Dal 2013, quindi, sono state fermate ormai circa 3.200 persone.

    Il numero di arresti nel 2023 non solo è inferiore in termini assoluti rispetto agli anni precedenti, ma mostra una diminuzione ancora più significativa in termini relativi. Nel 2023, circa 157.000 persone sono arrivate in Italia via mare, il che significa che sono state arrestate circa tre persone ogni 2.000 arrivi. Nel 2021 e nel 2022, il tasso di criminalizzazione era due volte questo.

    Esistono diverse ragioni che potrebbero spiegare questa diminuzione. La più significativa sembra essere un cambiamento di politica ad Agrigento e Lampedusa nel non effettuare arresti sistematici dopo gli sbarchi, concentrandosi invece su casi specifici che coinvolgono accuse di morti durante il viaggio, torture e, per la prima volta, pirateria. Ci teniamo ad aggiungere che – appoggiando il lavoro dell’associazione Maldusa – stiamo seguendo casi in cui le persone sono accusate dei suddetti reati, che hanno suscitato in noi importanti dubbi sulla correttezza delle accuse e sulle modalità con cui vengono portati avanti questi procedimenti penali che spesso sembrano vere e proprie sperimentazioni giuridiche. È anche evidente che le autorità ad Agrigento effettuano continuamente arresti di persone, soprattutto cittadini tunisini, che, essendo rientrati in Italia dopo espulsioni precedenti, sono imputati del reato di violazione del divieto di reingresso. Questo dimostra una manipolazione molto evidente del diritto penale come mezzo per sostenere le ingiuste politiche di chiusura e respingimento.

    Luoghi di fermo e il decreto Piantedosi

    In secondo luogo, l’anno scorso è stata attuata una nuova strategia nella guerra italiana contro le navi di soccorso delle ONG, a cui sono stati assegnati porti di sbarco in tutta Italia (il decreto Piantedosi). Un effetto collaterale è che spesso i luoghi che hanno accolto le imbarcazioni non hanno visto tanti sbarchi prima di quest’anno, e sono quindi poco familiari con la criminalizzazione sistematica che si è agita negli ultimi anni. Nei porti settentrionali a volte sono stati disposti gli arresti, che spesso poi non sono stati convalidati dai Giudici locali, che non hanno ritenuto neppure di disporre una misura cautelare dato che le prove contro gli imputati erano troppo deboli. Mentre ad Agrigento e nei porti del Nord possiamo forse notare una certa resistenza alla solita politica degli arresti sistematici dei capitani, lo stesso non si può dire in altre parti d’Italia. Nella Sicilia orientale e in Calabria un alto numero di persone è stato arrestato e incarcerato. Augusta ha registrato 28 arresti, Siracusa 11; Crotone ha visto 24 arresti e Roccella 18. E come si può vedere dalla mappa, questo modello si replica in altri porti delle stesse zone.


    Nel 2023, come nel 2021 e nel 2022, le autorità hanno preso di mira in particolare i cittadini egiziani, identificandone almeno 60 come capitani. Ciò è notevolmente diverso da quanto avveniva prima del 2020, quando gli egiziani avevano smesso di essere la principale nazionalità criminalizzata. Questa inversione di tendenza ha visto circa 300 cittadini egiziani arrestati dal 2020, la maggior parte dei quali probabilmente è ancora nelle carceri italiane.

    Un cambiamento significativo delle nazionalità delle persone arrestate registrato nel 2023 è invece l’importante aumento della criminalizzazione delle persone migranti provenienti dai paesi asiatici, che ammontano a circa 40 persone fermate quest’anno.

    Con riferimento alla rotta ionica, che arriva in Calabria – la stessa utilizzata dalla barca che è tragicamente affondata vicino a Cutro – nel 2021 la maggior parte delle persone arrestate come capitani proveniva da Russia e Ucraina. Con l’inizio della guerra, sono arrivate molte meno persone con queste nazionalità, mentre abbiamo assistito ad un allarmante aumento della persecuzione dei cittadini turchi nel 2022. Nell’ultimo anno, invece, abbiamo assistito a pochi arresti di persone provenienti dall’Europa orientale o dalla Turchia, e molti di più di persone provenienti dagli stati dell’Asia centrale.

    Va detto che la diminuzione dei fermi eseguiti dalla Procura di Agrigento dovrebbe essere letta alla luce della massiccia operazione posta in essere dalla polizia tunisina, con la benedizione e il finanziamento dell’Europa, contro i cosiddetti trafficanti a Sfax. I governi si vantano di ben 750 fermi nel paese nordafricano negli ultimi tre mesi, accanto a strategie violente di intercettazione e refoulement, come denunciato sia da Amnesty che dal Forum tunisino per i diritti economici e sociali. Anche in Egitto, l’inasprimento della legge nazionale contro i ‘trafficanti’ ha portato a diffusi arresti e processi ingiusti. Ad esempio, l’11 giugno 2023, una campagna di arresti ingiustificati per “smuggling” ha portato alla morte, alla città di Marsa Matruh, di un cittadino egiziano per colpi di arma da fuoco inferti dalla polizia, come ha denunciato Refugees Platform in Egypt. A livello dell’UE, si provano invece ad affinare gli strumenti legali, accrescendo le infrastrutture di controllo e criminalizzazione della frontiera e proponendo emendamenti – come quelli presentati in occasione del lancio dell’Alleanza globale contro il traffico di migranti – al cosiddetto Facilitators Package (in italiano “pacchetto facilitatori”).

    È chiaro quindi che, mentre festeggiamo alcune limitate vittorie, non possiamo negare che il “trafficante/scafista” rimane il capro espiatorio per eccellenza in Europa e non solo.
    2. Un anno di casi e udienze

    Attualmente seguiamo la situazione di 107 persone accusate di essere ‘scafisti’, 66 delle quali sono ancora in carcere. Dei detenuti, 32 si trovano in Sicilia e 16 in Calabria; gli altri sono sparsi in tutta Italia. Come ci si aspetterebbe dagli arresti degli ultimi anni, quasi la metà delle persone detenute che seguiamo proviene dall’Africa del Nord (30 su 44), mentre la maggior parte di quelle provenienti dall’Africa occidentale con cui siamo in contatto sono ormai libere (23 su 30). Siamo anche in contatto con 24 persone provenienti da paesi asiatici (tra cui Turchia, Palestina e i paesi ex-sovietici), la maggior parte delle quali è ancora detenuta.

    E’ trascorso poco meno di un anno da quando quasi 100 persone hanno perso la vita nelle acque di Cutro, in Calabria. Il Governo ha reagito non solo con finta commozione e decreti razzisti, ma anche, come quasi sempre accade, con un processo contro i cosiddetti scafisti. Insieme alle realtà calabresi, seguiamo attentamente i processi contro Khalid, Hasab, Sami, Gun e Mohamed, sopravvissuti al naufragio e provenienti dalla Turchia e dal Pakistan: ora si devono difendere contro il Ministero dell’Interno, il Consiglio dei Ministri e la Regione Calabria che si sono costituiti parti civili nel processo penale. Le istituzioni governative, anche se non esiste un fondo per questo, chiedono un risarcimento superiore a un milione di euro per danni al turismo e all’immagine: come se la tragedia del massacro di Cutro fosse questa.

    Sono diversi i procedimenti penali che siamo riusciti a seguire da vicino, offrendo il nostro supporto ad avvocatə e persone criminalizzate, e, in alcuni casi, andando personalmente alle udienze.

    - Tra le vittorie ottenute non possiamo non citare la recentissima sentenza di assoluzione emessa dalla Corte di Appello di Messina in favore di Ali Fabureh, un giovane ragazzo gambiano che era stato erroneamente condannato dal Tribunale di Messina a 10 anni di carcere senza che – come appurato dalla Corte – avesse mai preso un timone in mano. E sempre a Messina abbiamo registrato un’altra importante vittoria: si è, infatti, concluso con una sentenza di assoluzione anche il procedimento penale iniziato due anni fa contro 4 persone accusate di aver condotto un peschereccio con a bordo centinaia di persone ed essere responsabili della morte di 5 di esse. Tra le persone assolte c’è A., che attualmente è ospitato presso l’associazione Baobab, e con cui continuiamo a rimanere in contatto. Un’altra importante vittoria di quest’anno è stata raggiunta a febbraio a Palermo, quando il Tribunale ha assolto 10 persone accusate di art. 12 TUI, riconoscendo loro lo stato di necessità per le violenze subite in Libia e aprendo la strada, si spera, a un maggior riconoscimento di questa causa di giustificazione. La sentenza è ora definitiva.
    - Purtroppo non tutti i procedimenti seguiti si sono conclusi positivamente, a dimostrazione del fatto che, anche se qualche passo nella direzione giusta è stato fatto, ne restano ancora tanti da compiere. Spesso può succedere che il processo contro due imputati nello stesso procedimento, ha avuto esiti diversi. Questo è stato il caso in un processo nei confronti di due cittadini senegalesi al Tribunale di Agrigento, che ha disposto l’archiviazione per uno di loro, mentre per l’altro il processo continua.
    – Altre volte è stata emessa una sentenza di condanna senza assoluzioni o archiviazioni. Questo è il caso della riprovevole condanna di 7 anni inflitta dal Tribunale di Locri a Ahmid Jawad, magistrato afghano che ancora lotta per dimostrare che era un semplice passeggero dell’imbarcazione che dalla Turchia l’ha condotto in Italia. E’ anche la situazione di Ahmed, che si è visto rigettare l’appello proposto alla Corte di Appello di Palermo avverso la sentenza di condanna del Tribunale di Agrigento.
    - Inoltre, non possiamo non mostrare indignazione e preoccupazione per i casi, come quello di E. (egiziano) al tribunale di Locri e M. e J. (del Sierra Leone) a Reggio Calabria, con cui siamo in contatto, a cui è stata applicata la nuova fattispecie di reato di cui all’art. 12 bis TUI, introdotta con il decreto Cutro, che prevede pene ancora più elevate. Seguiamo il loro processo da lontano: a gennaio, il tribunale di Locri ha rigettato la richiesta di remissione alla Corte Costituzionale presentata dagli avvocati per contestare l’art 12 bis.

    Centri di permanenza per il rimpatrio (CPR)

    I problemi per le persone accusate di essere ‘scafisti’ non finiscono a fine pena, e anche con riferimento alla detenzione nei CPR abbiamo seguito casi che hanno avuto esiti molto diversi. Siamo felicə che gli ultimi due casi seguiti si siano conclusi in modo positivo. Nel mese di dicembre, infatti, una donna ucraina e un uomo tunisino entrambə codannatə per art. 12 TUI, sono statə scarceratə, rispettivamente dalle carceri di Palermo e di Caltagirone, senza essere deportatə presso i centri di detenzione. Sicuramente nel primo caso ha inciso la nazionalità della persona, mentre nel secondo il sovraccaricamento dei centri.

    Purtroppo non sempre è stato possibile evitare il CPR. Molte persone seguite, nonostante la richiesta asilo presentata tempestivamente, sono state trattenute nei centri di detenzione, chi per pochi giorni, chi per due mesi. Per circostanze che sembrano spesso fortuite, la maggior parte è riuscita ad uscire e, anche se con poche prospettive di regolarizzarsi, possono vivere in “libertà” in Italia.

    Purtroppo, per due persone seguite le cose sono andate diversamente. La macchina burocratica ha mostrato il suo volto più spietato e sono stati rimpatriati prima che avessero la possibilità di ricevere un aiuto più concreto; oggi si trovano in Gambia e Egitto. Nell’ultimo caso, la situazione è ancora più preoccupante perché era stato assolto dal Tribunale di Messina; nonostante ciò, all’uscita dal carcere lo aspettava la deportazione.
    Misure alternative

    Quest’anno è stato particolarmente significativo in termini del superamento del regime ostativo alle misure alterantive alla detenzione posto dall’art. 4 bis o.p., che si applica a chi subisce una condanna per art. 12 TUI. Abbiamo infatti registrato i primi casi in cui le persone incarcerate che seguiamo hanno potuto accedere a misure alternative alla detenzione. Questo è stato il caso di B., che ha ottenuto dal Tribunale di Sorveglianza di Palermo l’affidamento in prova ai servizi sociali in provincia di Sciacca. Adesso che ha raggiunto il fine pena si è stabilito lì, in poco più di un mese ha aggiunto i suoi obiettivi personali: ha un lavoro e una rete sociale. E questa è la storia anche di A., e O., che hanno fatto accesso alle misure alternative presso la comunità Palermitana Un Nuovo Giorno. Rimaniamo, invece, in attesa dell’esito della seconda istanza di accesso per M., cugino di B., con cui tentiamo dal 2022, e che speriamo possa presto vedere il cielo oltre le quattro mura.

    Abbiamo anche seguito 6 persone, tra cui i 3 accusati palestinesi che l’estate scorsa sono entrati in sciopero della fame, che sono riusciti ad accedere agli arresti domiciliari, che pur non essendo oggetto dell’art. 4 bis o.p., nel corso degli anni sono comunque rimasti difficili da ottenere. Queste vittorie sono state possibili grazie ai tentativi, a volte ripetuti, dellə loro avvocatə difensorə, e alle offerte di ospitalità di un numero crescente di realtà conosciute.

    È bello vedere che qualcuno riesce a sgusciare attraverso alcune crepe di questo meccanismo. Certamente lavoreremo per continuare ad allargarle, anche se sappiamo che questo strumento può solo alleviare la sofferenza di alcune persone, e certamente non riparare i danni subiti per la loro detenzione.
    3. Rete

    Per noi è fondamentale ribadire che è solo grazie a una rete forte, impegnata, diffusa e informata, che questo lavoro è possibile. Anche quest’anno, possiamo dire di aver avuto il grandissimo piacere di collaborare con realtà diverse, in tanti luoghi, da Torino a Napoli, da Lampedusa a Londra, da Roma a Bruxelles e New York.

    In particolare, segnaliamo la campagna recentemente avviata Free #Pylos 9, promossa della rete Captain Support, per le persone arrestate in seguito al massacro di Pylos in Grecia. Negli ultimi mesi abbiamo inoltre avuto modo di conoscere realtà solidali a Bruxelles, tra cui PICUM, che ha organizzato a fine novembre un incontro di scambio sulle pratiche di criminalizzazione attuate intorno al controllo della migrazione. Qui abbiamo avuto l’opportunità di aprire insieme una conversazione sul lancio della nuova Alleanza Globale Europea contro il Traffico di Migranti, che stava avvenendo proprio in quei giorni.

    A New York a novembre abbiamo partecipato alla conferenza dell’Università di Columbia sulla criminalizzazione della migrazione nel mondo, e abbiamo presentato il nostro lavoro al centro sociale Woodbine, insieme ad altri gruppi locali impegnati nella lotta contro le frontiere.

    Qua in Italia, se da un lato il decreto Piantedosi ha ottusamente costretto le navi ONG a sbarcare in diversi porti d’Italia (come abbiamo scritto nei paragrafi sopra), dall’altro ha contribuito a catalizzare la consapevolezza sugli arresti allo sbarco in diverse città. Grazie al lavoro di alcunə avvocatə e individui solidali a Napoli, e con il supporto della Clinica Legale Roma 3, le persone arrestate agli sbarchi in Campania hanno avuto accesso a un supporto indipendente ed esaustivo.

    L’evento Capitani Coraggiosi, organizzato da Baobab Experience alla Città dell’Altra Economia a Roma, ha visto proiezione del film Io Capitano di Matteo Garrone (ora fra i candidati agli Oscar), e un dibattito col regista e con altre persone impegnate in questa lotta. Qui è stata lanciata la campagna in vista della presentazione della richiesta di revisione del caso di Alaji Diouf, che ha subito una condanna di 7 anni per il reato di favoreggiamento. Adesso, Alaji chiede che sia fatta giustizia sul suo caso, come affermato nel suo intervento dopo la proiezione del film “Io Capitano”, quando ha detto “Tutto quello che succede dopo, da lì parte davvero il film. […] ora che sono libero voglio far conoscere al mondo la verità”.

    ‘Dal mare al carcere’
    un progetto di Arci Porco Rosso e borderline-europe
    4° report trimestrale 2023.

    Leggete il report ‘Dal mare al carcere’ (2021), e i seguenti aggiornamenti trimestrale, al www.dal-mare-al-carcere.info.

    Ringraziamo Iuventa Crew, Sea Watch Legal Aid e Safe Passage Fund che hanno supportato il nostro lavoro nel 2023. Vuoi sostenerlo anche tu? Puoi contribuire alla nostra raccolta fondi.

    #scafista #criminalisation_de_la_migration #migrations #asile #réfugiés #frontières #Méditerranée #mer_Méditerranée #Arci_Porco_Rosso #Italie #chiffres #statistiques #2023 #justice #procès #détention_administrative #rétention #Cutro

  • Regista e attrice curda in carcere in Italia, scambiata per scafista

    #Maysoon_Majidi, regista e attrice curda iraniana, molto nota per aver combattuto esponendosi in prima persona contro il regime islamista è in cella nel carcere femminile di Castrovillari dai primi di gennaio con l’accusa di essere una scafista.

    L’interprete che avrebbe dovuto tradurre lei e due testimoni ha travisato quasi tutto quel che ha sentito. L’aveva anche rassicurata: “Tranquilla, ti liberano subito”. Invece, per una serie di errori inauditi ed assai frequenti, lei è in cella nel carcere femminile di Castrovillari dai primi di gennaio con l’accusa di essere una scafista. E non capisce perché. Secondo il decreto Cutro con quest’accusa si rischia fino a trent’anni se ci sono morti. In questo caso non ci sono vittime, quindi lei rischia una pena dai cinque ai dieci anni. Da quando è in prigione è riuscita a parlare solo venerdì alle 14 con il suo avvocato, Giancarlo Liberati, che ha assunto l’incarico due settimane fa. Ha 27 anni, si chiama Maysoon Majidi ed è una regista e attrice curda iraniana, molto nota per aver combattuto esponendosi in prima persona contro il regime islamista.

    Non ci voleva molto a capire chi fosse. Basta digitare il suo nome in rete e piovono documentari suoi di denuncia della violazione dei diritti in Iran. Parla di lei il sito della Bbc, ci sono in rete molte sue fotografie. Fa parte dell’organizzazione per i diritti umani Hana human rights organization, ha manifestato a suo rischio e pericolo contro l’omicidio di Masha Amini ed è persona nota agli uffici Onu. In realtà sarebbe stato sufficiente chiederle, appena fermata a Crotone dalla Guardia di finanza, se parlasse inglese, lingua che lei conosce. Ma nessuno gliel’ha chiesto.

    Quindi, per una assurda storia di fischi presi per fiaschi, da un mese è in cella con l’accusa di essere una trafficante di esseri umani. Invece era una delle 59 persone stipate sottocoperta nella barca a vela incagliatasi senza affondare a Capodanno nella costa crotonese. Usando il gommoncino di bordo lei ed altre quattro persone – incluso suo fratello e un cittadino turco, Ufu Aktur, che ha poi confessato di essere il capitano della barca a vela – sono arrivate a terra.

    La Procura di Crotone sostiene che due migranti a bordo l’accusano. I due, nel frattempo andati in Germania, rintracciati dall’avvocato Liberati, hanno raccontato di non aver mai detto che la ragazza era una scafista, ma di aver detto – interrogati appena fermati quindi nella confusione totale nella quale vengono puntualmente prese e non vagliate queste dichiarazioni di persone che hanno fretta di potersi allontanare liberamente – che lei li aveva aiutati. Dice l’avvocato Liberati: “Li ho rintracciati io in Germania e mi hanno mandato due video in cui spiegano che lei era una passeggera, stava sotto coperta come loro e che loro non hanno mai detto alla Guardia di finanza quel che viene loro attribuito”.

    Sarebbe stato sufficiente mettere a confronto l’accusata con i testimoni, invece ai due dichiaranti dalle cui parole travisate è stata estrapolata l’accusa, è stato permesso di lasciare l’italia e a più di un mese dall’arresto nessuno ha ancora disposto l’incidente probatorio. Agli inquirenti di Crotone non è bastata nemmeno la confessione del cittadino turco, Ufu Aktur, che ha ammesso di essere lui il capitano della barca e ha spiegato che Maysoon Majidi era una dei migranti a bordo. Lei ha con sé la ricevuta del pagamento di 8500 dollari fatto per imbarcarsi. Hanno pagato 8500 dollari a testa lei e suo fratello in Turchia. Dopo averne pagati altri 15mila a dei truffatori per un viaggio mai fatto. Maysoon ha con sé anche un certificato dell’Agenzia per i rifugiati delle Nazioni Unite, che dimostra che lei è una richiedente asilo. L’ha avuto nell’agosto del 2023 in Iraq dove si era rifugiata.

    Dice l’avvocato Liberati: “Siamo nella fase delicatissima delle indagini preliminari, sto facendo richiesta di interrogatorio per informazioni fondamentali di cui sono in possesso. Sa, io non ce l’ho coi magistrati perché spesso assumono decisioni sulla base di informazioni fuorvianti ed errate. Ha avuto un ruolo in tutto ciò una chiamiamola asimmetria informativa per pessima traduzione. Ma le traduzioni di queste dichiarazioni prese subito dopo lo sbarco andrebbero mostrate perché io ne ho viste centinaia e sono quasi tutte uguali, sembrano fatte col copia incolla. Comunque ora Maysoon finalmente si è un po’ rasserenata, è scappata da una situazione drammatica e non capisce perché diavolo si trovi in prigione ora che è in Italia. Un dettaglio può in parte descrivere la situazione terrificante di disperazione in cui si trovano tutte queste persone alle quali poi, nella confusione più totale, spesso di notte appena toccato terra, si prendono dichiarazioni tradotte dio sa come che poi diventano accuse. “Maysoon – dice il suo difensore – mi ha confermato di essere stata sempre sotto coperta tutto il viaggio, l’ultimo giorno di viaggio ha avuto le mestruazioni ed è riuscita ad ottenere il permesso di salire sovracoperta per respirare perché si sentiva male. E questo, nella disperazione generale, può aver generato l’invidia e l’equivoco”.

    Al pubblico ministero Rosaria Multari della Procura di Crotone verrà chiesta dalla difesa l’interrogatorio e, quanto meno, la sostituzione delle misure cautelari.


    #scafista #migrations #criminalisation_de_la_migration #asile #réfugiés #emprisonnement #passeurs #scafisti

  • Weaponizing the law against the vulnerable: the case of the #El_Hiblu_3

    In March 2019, three teenagers were rescued from a sinking rubber boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Amara was 15 years old and had already travelled from Guinea to Libya before attempting the crossing to Europe. Unknown to him at the time were two other teenagers: Kader was 16, a football enthusiast and from the Ivory Coast; and Abdalla at 19 was also from Guinea and travelling with his wife, Souwa. The three teenagers travelled with 100 other people, and were rescued by an oil tanker, the #El_Hiblu_1, after their boat began to deflate.

    That night, the El Hiblu 1 crew tried to return the travellers to Libya, despite assurances of helping them to reach Europe. In the early hours of the morning, people spotted Tripoli’s coastline and began to protest, terrified at the prospect of being returned to the violence they had known in Libya. Desperation was so high that people were ready to jump overboard. In this tense situation, the first mate called on Amara to translate, having identified him the day before as someone who spoke English. Eventually, the crew also called on the young Kader and Abdalla. The three acted as mediators and translators between frightened travellers and scared crew members.

    The wider group’s protests convinced the captain to change course; he turned the ship north and motored towards Malta. Speaking to the Maltese authorities en route, he claimed his ship was no longer under his control - although testimonies in the subsequent compilation of evidence cast doubt on this claim. Nevertheless, upon arrival in Malta’s Valletta harbour, the three were arrested and immediately charged with nine crimes, including terrorism and confining someone against their will. These charges carry multiple life sentences, and echo the media narrative that took hold before the three even arrived in Malta, a narrative that painted them as pirates and hijackers.

    Abdalla, Amara, and Kader – now also known as the El Hiblu 3 – have never known Malta as free men. Imprisoned for 8 months, initially in the maximum-security wing of the adult prison despite their young age, they were released on bail in November 2019 but required to register with the police every day and restricted in their daily movements. Legal experts and international organisations describe the charges that condition their lives as ‘grossly unjust’, ‘baseless’, and a ‘farce’.

    For almost five years, the three young men have attended court hearings every month. As a whole, the testimonies corroborate what the El Hiblu 3 have always maintained: that they are innocent. Moreover, the compilation of evidence, only the initial stage in the judicial process, has been painfully slow and riddled with failures, silences and erasures. Despite calling numerous people to testify, including crew members and officials from the Armed Forces of Malta, the prosecution failed to call any of the 100 people who travelled with the El Hiblu 3 for two years. They only did so in March 2021 after the defence submitted an application to the court reminding the prosecution of its legal obligation to impartiality and its duty to bring forward all evidence at its disposal. Predictably, many of these key eyewitnesses had already left the island after two years, as secondary movements to other European countries are common.

    Even when a handful were eventually given the opportunity to testify, silencing continued. Requests by some to testify in Bambara, a language widely spoken in West Africa, were denied. Witnesses also questioned the accuracy of the translation occurring in court, with the defence requesting a new translator. Yet, those who did testify confirmed Amara, Abdalla and Kader’s role as translators, and not as ring leaders.

    Over these last years, a vast, transnational solidarity network has developed between local, international and intergovernmental organisations, convinced of the El Hiblu 3’s innocence and motivated by the injustice of pressing such charges against three teenagers. As the compilation of evidence unfolded, anger grew as information emerged that no weapons were found on board and no violence took place, and as people got to know the three. Despite their young age, despite the trial having already stolen much of their youth, they have displayed incredible strength and courage in the face of injustice. They have withstood imprisonment, adhered to strict bail conditions, appeared in court every month, all while building lives in Malta: studying, working, raising children, making friends and building a community.

    As we have explored elsewhere, the solidarity network that has emerged to support and stand with Amara, Abdalla, and Kader reflects a transgressive form of solidarity that resists dominant state narratives and categories, and also creates counter-narratives through direct action. Alongside many protests, concerts, and conferences, the campaign to free the El Hiblu 3 published a book in 2021 which reflects the diverse voices of this network, with central contributions from Abdalla, Amara, and Kader. The El Hiblu case allows us to explore the ways in which transgressive acts—from autonomous migration to solidarity practices that occur at sea and within European territory—connect and challenge our conceptualization of borders, nation-states, and citizenship.

    This case highlights the persistent criminalisation of people on the move in Europe today. The EU and its southern member states have attempted to contain people in Libya: they have turned militias into ‘EU partners’, funded detention centres, and coordinated pushbacks, with complete disregard for severe human rights violations carried out by these actors. In the name of deterrence, people in distress at sea are abandoned and those carrying out search and rescue activities are criminalised. Those who arrive face further punishment. Among other countries, Italy and Greece have used the law to target those they consider ‘boat drivers’. Malta, similarly, has weaponised the law against the El Hiblu 3, using them as political pawns in a spectacle of deterrence. The use of the law, by liberal democratic states, to undermine human rights raises questions of democracy, rule of law, and justice.

    A few weeks ago, in November 2023, the Attorney General issued a bill of indictment formally charging Abdalla, Amara, and Kader with all the original accusations, despite the testimonies heard in the intervening period that point to their innocence and despite condemnation of the judicial process from legal scholars, international organisations and activists. According to Amnesty International, Malta’s Attorney General made the ‘worst possible decision’ when she issued a bill of indictment that could lead to life sentences for the El Hiblu 3. Indeed, many have hailed the three young men as heroes whose mediation helped prevent an illegal pushback to Libya. With countless supporters, in Malta and beyond, we continue to stand with them in their fight for justice.

    #migrations #asile #réfugiés #criminalisation #El_Hiblu #Libye #Méditerranée #pull-back #résistance #justice #Malte #Abdalla #Amara #Kader #solidarité #frontières #scafisti #scafista

  • La storia di #Diouf, condannato come scafista anche se non lo era

    Nella sua vicenda ci sono le storture dell’ordinamento giuridico italiano che considera complice chiunque sfiora il timone, o passa una tanica di benzina, quando i veri organizzatori della tratta restano al sicuro sulle coste libiche.

    Sorriso timido e sguardo buono, #Diouf_Alaji sembra molte cose ma tra queste non c’è sicuramente un galeotto o un trafficante di essere umani. Però per lo Stato italiano è entrambi: condannato a otto anni di reclusione per essere lo scafista di un’imbarcazione partita dalla Libia con circa centotrenta persone a bordo, otto delle quali morte per asfissia durante il viaggio.

    Nella storia di Diouf Alaji c’è il paradosso dell’ordinamento giuridico italiano e del sistema messo in atto in questi anni per contrastare il traffico di esseri umani. Sei uno «scafista» se porti l’imbarcazione anche solo per un breve tratto, oppure se aiuti chi lo sta facendo e, nel suo caso, anche se un uomo che viaggiava in un barcone vicino al tuo ti taccia di essere lo scafista, anche se l’accusa non viene confermata dalle persone che viaggiano con te.

    Per raccontare meglio questa storia però dobbiamo fare un passo indietro, al 2005, quando in un piccolo villaggio del Senegal muore un uomo che lascia sua moglie e i suoi figli. La donna fisicamente non è in grado di lavorare e i figli interrompono il percorso scolastico e vanno a lavorare per sostenersi e sostenere tutta la famiglia. Cose che a noi oggi sembrano lontane e difficili da immaginare nel “nostro mondo” ma che accadono ancora in Senegal come in molti altri Paesi.

    Diouf è uno dei figli rimasti orfani di padre e inizia a lavorare come piastrellista, ma i soldi sono pochi e la fame è tanta, così nel 2015 decide che l’Europa è la sua destinazione, perché vuole continuare a fare il piastrellista ma vuole anche vivere e far vivere la sua famiglia dignitosamente. In Senegal pensare di andare via per lavorare e inviare soldi è qualcosa di comune, quasi il dieci per cento del Pil nazionale si basa proprio sulle rimesse di chi si trova in altri Paesi, principalmente nel vecchio continente.

    Mali, Burkina Faso e Niger, le rotte migratorie non sono mai lineari ma disegnano linee impreviste dettate della permeabilità delle frontiere e dai rapporti dei trafficanti con una polizia locale invece che con un’altra. Un chilometro alla volta, una tangente dopo l’altra da pagare a chi controlla quelle zone, Diouf attraversa il deserto e arriva in Libia.

    «Molti di quelli che viaggiavano con me sono rimasti indietro perché non avevano i soldi, io invece ho portato tutti i risparmi della mia famiglia e abbiamo chiesto anche un aiuto ai nostri parenti», racconta mentre passeggiamo per i giardini del quartiere Esquilino di Roma, dove abita in una casa messa a disposizione dell’associazione Baobab Experience.

    Dei centri di detenzione in Libia da anni ormai sappiamo che sono luoghi infernali dove la vita vale poco o nulla, dove le donne sono vittime di abusi e che gli uomini sono torturati ai fini di pagare un riscatto. Diouf spende gli ultimi duemila euro del suo tesoretto per salire su di un barcone alla volta dell’Italia.

    «Eravamo in centotrenta nel barcone, talmente tanti e stretti che non potevamo distendere neanche le gambe», mi racconta mentre gli spunta un sorriso amaro e aggiunge: «Io del mare ho sempre avuto paura. Era vicino a casa mia ma non ci andavo mai».

    Di quella traversata Diouf ricorda il mare mosso, la paura, le tante ore immobili e soprattutto le sette donne e l’uomo che sono morti a bordo per asfissia, prima che arrivasse la Guardia Costiera italiana a soccorrerli.

    Diouf arriva al porto di Taranto insieme ad altre centinaia di persone, soccorse da diversi barconi e trasbordati su di una nave civile. Al momento dello sbarco vengono divisi in base alla barca di provenienza e la Guardia di Finanza inizia a interrogare i migranti per capire chi fossero gli scafisti. Diouf viene indicato come tale da un uomo che aveva perso la sorella durante la navigazione, però l’uomo che lo accusa non si trovava sulla sua stessa barca, dettaglio non irrilevante visto anche l’alto numero di persone a bordo.

    Nessuno di chi viaggiava con Diouf conferma questa tesi, ma lui tutto questo lo saprà tempo dopo, perché non solo non parla italiano ma nemmeno inglese, francese e arabo; parla solo la lingua mandinga e quando viene portato negli uffici della Guardia di Finanza e poi tradotto in carcere dalla Polizia, lui continuerà a non sapere cosa stia accadendo.

    «In carcere quando mi hanno interrogato, io parlavo solo mandinga e non comprendevo le domande che mi venivano rivolte». Dalla sentenza, invece, risulta che lui abbia detto di parlare solo wolof e che le domande dell’interrogatorio gli siano state rivolte in inglese, francese ed arabo. «Può essere un interrogatorio valido?», mi chiede retoricamente e aggiunge: «Se capitasse oggi potrei difendermi perché capisco e parlo italiano».

    La sentenza di primo grado è di dodici anni di reclusione con il rito abbreviato, evidentemente l’avvocato d’ufficio non ha creduto alla sua innocenza o non ha voluto investirci tempo. In Corte d’Appello viene ridotta a otto anni ma la sentenza sembra più una beffa che una conquista: «Gli imputati non sono gli organizzatori del viaggio, questi ultimi rimasti al sicuro sulle coste libiche – recita la sentenza e prosegue – bensì altri disgraziati che hanno accettato tale compito per fuggire anch’essi dalla condizione in cui versavano in patria. Dunque scafisti improvvisati se è vero che essi venivano allenati sulla spiaggia alla conduzione dei gommoni poco prima della partenza».

    Disgraziati, nonostante Diouf Alaji rifiuti anche questa ricostruzione: «Io non l’ho mai portata una barca, io sono un piastrellista e questo so fare», ribadisce spesso interrompendo il suo racconto.

    Oggi è un uomo libero e da poche settimane lavora come piastrellista, ha scontato quasi sette anni di carcere che lo hanno provato molto. «Ho tentato più volte il suicidio, soprattutto quando è morta mia mamma e io ero ancora in prigione. È stata molta dura e ho pensato di usare una corda per impiccarmi». Il racconto si ferma, due sussulti della testa tradiscono un singhiozzo nervoso, seguito dalle lacrime. «Mio fratello mi ha detto che nostra mamma è morta con la mia foto sotto al cuscino, per me è ancora un dolore grandissimo», chiosa mentre reprime il pianto.

    Il Testo unico sulle migrazioni all’articolo 12 prevede la condanna per «chiunque promuove, dirige, organizza, finanzia o effettua il trasporto di stranieri nel territorio dello Stato», basta anche solo passare una tanica di benzina per essere tecnicamente condannati, nonostante anche la Corte d’Appello di Lecce nella sentenza escluda il collegamento tra i migranti condannati e i trafficanti, quelli che sulle barche non ci mettono piede e non penserebbero mai di “sacrificare” un proprio uomo, sapendo che finirebbe in carcere.

    Dopo la tragedia di Cutro si è tornato a parlare di scafisti e il decreto governativo ha inasprito le pene per quest’ultimi sapendo benissimo che la rotta turco-calabra ha bisogno di persone esperte nella navigazione perché le imbarcazioni di solito sono a vela e comunque sono grandi e difficili da comandare, ma sanno bene che è anche una rotta marginale: a fronte dei ventimila arrivi in Italia dal 1 gennaio a oggi, solo 689 sono avvenuti su quella rotta mentre dodicimila circa dalla Tunisia e poco più di settemila dalla Libia, in questi ultimi due casi le piccole imbarcazioni utilizzate non sono mai guidate dai trafficanti o da uomini legati a loro.

    «Il caso di Diouf Alaji ci mostra come in Italia si possa verificare una vera e propria sospensione dello stato di diritto ma soprattutto che fin quando non ci sarà la modifica dell’articolo 12 del Testo unico sulle migrazioni, che definisce trafficante qualunque migrante sfiori per un attimo il timone, ci saranno casi come questo», commenta Alice Basiglini portavoce dell’associazione Baobab Experience, che sta sostenendo Diouf insieme all’avvocato Francesco Romeo.

    «Stiamo chiedendo la revisione del processo perché vogliamo dimostrare che lui non è uno scafista, che non ha portato quell’imbarcazione e che non gli è stato garantito il diritto di difesa che la nostra Costituzione definisce inviolabile, Diouf non ha compreso nemmeno di quale reato è stato accusato, per quale delitto è stato processato e poi condannato», conclude l’avvocato.

    #passeurs #asile #migrations #réfugiés #frontières #criminalisation #justice (well...) #scafista #scafisti #procès

    • La storia di #Alaji_Diouf, accusato di essere uno scafista ed in carcere per 7 anni

      La nostra Laura Bonasera ci porta la storia di Alaji Diouf, un ragazzo senegalese rimasto orfano di padre all’età di 15 anni, che per mantenere la sua numerosissima famiglia inizia a lavorare come piastrellista, ma non basta e così decide di partire per l’Europa. La madre cerca di trattenerlo, invano. Alaji attraversa il deserto, un chilometro alla volta, e paga una mazzetta dopo l’altra tra violenze e digiuni, finché arriva in Libia, dove spende gli ultimi soldi per salire su un barcone, con altre 130 persone e raggiungere l’Italia. Una volta toccata terra, viene buttato in cella con l’accusa di essere uno scafista. Dopo quasi 7 anni di carcere, oggi è un uomo libero e ha deciso di raccontare per la prima volta la sua storia.


      #interview #entretien #témoignage

  • Trial report - Lesbos: Mohamad H. sentenced to 146 years in prison

    On Thursday, 13th May 2021, refugee Mohamad H. was sentenced to 146 years in prison in the court of Mytilene, Lesbos. The sentence was passed despite the passengers of the boat testiyfing that they owe their lives to the actions of Mohamad. The lawyers will file an appeal.

    “Why you did not come to Greece with a ferry or by buying a ticket?” - This one single question posed by the judge to Mohamad captures in a shocking way the absurdiy, the cruel cynism and the complete lack of contact with reality that the arrests and subsequent trials of refugees as “smugglers” in Greece but also everywhere else are based on.

    On Thursday, 13th May 2021, the trial of 27-year-old refugee Mohamad H. took place in Mytilene, Lesbos. As previously reported, Mohamad H. was arrested upon arrival for being the “boat driver” of the boat in which he and 33 other passengers tried to reach Greece, and consequently charged with the “transportation of third-country nationals without permission to enter into Greek territory” (smuggling) with the aggravating circumstances of endangering the life of 31 people and causing the death of two. He had tried to save everyone’s life during a shipwreck by somehow steering the boat safely ashore, being a refugee himself with no experience in seafaring. Unfortunately, the boat capsized and two women died (https://www.borderline-europe.de/unsere-arbeit/lesbos-gefl%C3%BCchtetem-droht-zweimal-lebensl%C3%A4nglich-haft-na).

    At the trial, eight people who were in the same boat with Mohamad H. appeared in court in order to defend him. Two of them were accepted as witnesses and to testify before the court. They stated that Mohamad was one of them who just tried to save everyone’s life, that the smuggler was a Turkish man who abandoned them in the sea and that the shipwreck was caused by the actions of the smuggler and the Turkish Coast Guard that did not save them even though they called for help.

    However, the judge insisted on the fact that in the preliminary hearing two witnesses pointed to the defendant as the “driver” although the defense stressed that during the preliminary hearing the interpretation was problematic, as it was in English and not in Somali, as well as the fact that they did not point out the defendant as the smuggler but as the person who drove the boat in a situation of distress.

    Also Mohamad H. repeated once more that he was a refugee himself and not the smuggler. He explained that he neither knew how to drive a boat nor did he want to and that he only took the wheel in order to save his co-passengers from drowning. He did this without knowing that simply steering a wheel is considered a crime under Greek law.

    To this, the judge responded by asking: “How is it possible you did not know that what you were doing was illegal? Then why you did not come to Greece with a ferry or by buying a ticket?”

    In light of the fact that there are no safe and legal pathways to enter Europe and claim asylum, this question is not just grotesque and completely out of touch with reality, but cynical and cruel. It is the European policy of deterrence and closed borders that forces people onto makeshift boats and perilous journeys and to risk their lives and the lives of their families. Maybe someone should explain to this court how the European ayslum system works before they sentence a refugee to 146 years because he “did not just take the ferry or buy a ticket”.

    The prosecutor’s suggestion on the guilt of the defendant was for him to be found guilty only for the crime of article 30-par.1 point a. (law 4251/2014): “transportation of third-country nationals without permission to enter into Greek territory”. Nevertheless, the judges insisted on the initial accusation of being also guilty of the aggravating circumstances (points c and d of article 30), meaning “endangering people’s lives” and “causing the death of passengers”. They accepted the mitigating circumstance of “prior lawful life” resulting into avoiding the life sentences as well as the money penalty. In more detail, they imposed 15 years incarceration for each deceased person (2 women) and 8 years for each transported person (31 people). Following a procedure called “merging of sentences” in Greek law, this resulted in a final sentence of 146 years.

    The defense, the lawyers Dimitris Choulis and Alexandros Georgoulis, will file an appeal against the decision.

    #passeurs #asile #migrations #réfugiés #frontières #Grèce #criminalisation #justice (well...) #Lesbos #Mer_Egée #absurdité #cynisme #scafista #scafisti #procès

    • How European courts are wrongfully prosecuting asylum seekers as smugglers. ‘These people are victims of the system.’

      In May this year, a Greek court sentenced Abdallah, Kheiraldin, and Mohamad, three Syrian refugees whose full names have not been disclosed in court documents, to a combined 439 years in prison for “facilitating unauthorised entry” into Greece.

      The charges against them stemmed from a shipwreck that took place on Christmas Eve last year. The men had been piloting a boat packed with around 80 people attempting to make the clandestine journey from the Turkish coast to Italy and had ended up at the helm only because the smugglers who organised the trip had offered them discounted fares, according to the three men’s lawyer.

      The overcrowded boat ran into trouble near the Greek island of Paros and capsized – 18 people drowned. The smugglers responsible for organising the trip and overloading the boat were out of reach in Turkey. But Greek police arrested Abdallah, Kheiraldin, and Mohamad and prosecuted them as smugglers.

      The case against the three men is not an anomaly, but a particularly egregious example of a trend taking place across Europe: Since the 2015 migration crisis, European countries have increasingly prosecuted asylum seekers and migrants using laws intended to combat people smuggling.

      The same laws have also been used to crack down on civil society organisations and activists providing humanitarian support to people migrating. But while those cases – mainly involving European citizens – often garner media attention, cases involving asylum seekers and migrants are frequently overlooked.

      Between 2015 and 2021, Italy detained over 2,000 asylum seekers and migrants on smuggling charges. In Greece, 7,000 people were arrested for smuggling between 2015 to 2019. Meanwhile, in the UK hundreds of people have been arrested and dozens convicted of crimes related to people smuggling since the number of people crossing the English Channel on small boats from France began to increase in 2019.

      European law enforcement agencies and governments say the prosecutions are meant to protect asylum seekers and migrants by breaking the business model of unscrupulous people smugglers. But lawyers and migration advocates argue that the cases criminalise vulnerable people who are seeking safety and opportunity. They also say that the arrests allow authorities to claim action is being taken to combat irregular migration while sending a message to would-be asylum seekers and migrants that they are not welcome.

      “The government, and also judges, have been trying to send a message… saying, ‘Watch out, do not come, because we’ll give you severe penalties’,” Rosa Lo Faro, an Italian lawyer who has defended dozens of asylum seekers and migrants accused of people smuggling, told The New Humanitarian. “But people don’t stop.”

      The New Humanitarian spent more than six months speaking to more than 50 people – including lawyers, asylum seekers, academic researchers, and human rights advocates – and analysing court documents from the UK, Italy, and Greece – three countries at the receiving end of prominent maritime migration routes. We found that:

      - Many of those prosecuted have either been wrongly accused or ended up steering a boat through happenstance or coercion;
      - Once accused, structural inequalities in European legal systems – such as a lack of qualified interpreters and difficulties accessing quality legal counsel – create barriers to them having fair trials;
      – While awaiting trial, asylum seekers and migrants can spend months, even years, in pre-trial detention because they lack quality legal support and a permanent address in Europe;
      - Once cases do go to trial, there are numerous examples of people who have been able to secure quality legal council being found innocent or having their convictions overturned on appeal;
      - Those who are found innocent have a hard time accessing compensation or redress of grievance for the time they spent behind bars;
      - And criminal prosecutions can make it more difficult for people who are found innocent to access asylum procedures, leaving them little choice other than to become undocumented in Europe or return to their home countries.

      “These people are victims of the system,” said Flavia Patané, a researcher at the faculty of law of Maastricht University in the Netherlands who studies the involvement of asylum seekers and migrants in people smuggling activities.
      From searching for a future to jail

      Badr, a 34-year-old from Morocco, is one of thousands of people whose lives have been altered by European countries’ prosecution of asylum seekers and migrants as smugglers.

      In 2013, when he was 25, Badr left his hometown of ​​Kenitra in northwest Morocco because he didn’t see a future in his country, making his way to Libya, where he found work as a day labourer. But Libya grew more chaotic and dangerous, and in 2015 Badr decided it was time to leave. At the time, thousands of people who were trying to reach Europe – from Syria, Eritrea, and elsewhere – were departing from Libya every month.

      On a calm August night, a smuggler brought Badr to a beach along with hundreds of others. He soon found himself packed onto an overcrowded wooden boat. As it set out to sea, the waves got rougher, and the engine started to overheat. Badr heard screams. “We realised there were people below us,” he told The New Humanitarian over Zoom in March this year.

      Before the boat was rescued by a Swedish Coast Guard vessel taking part in an EU border control mission, 53 people in the engine room had died from asphyxiation. When the Swedish ship docked in Palermo, Badr did not have time to process the fact that he had survived the crossing. Instead, he was immediately arrested and charged with facilitating illegal migration and causing the deaths of the people who had suffocated in the engine room. The Italian prosecutors in charge of the case asked for a life sentence.
      Criminalising migration

      The law that Badr was prosecuted under – introduced in 1998 – criminalises the act of promoting, directing, organising, and financing irregular migration, but also transporting people without visas, or “facilitating” their movement.

      “Italian law doesn’t differentiate between who ends up steering a boat and who organises the smuggling… with devastating consequences for people who are not responsible for smuggling but who are themselves victims of it,” said Germana Graceffo, a lawyer with the NGO Borderline Sicilia.

      According to the Italian civil rights organisation Antigone, this law led to a sharp increase in the percentage of foreigners in Italian prisons, which jumped from around nine percent in 1996 to 25 percent in 1998.

      Similar to Italy, laws in Greece, the UK, and other European countries – as well as regulations at the EU level – leave the door open for asylum seekers and migrants to be prosecuted as smugglers. Following the 2015 migration crisis, prosecutions under these anti-smuggling laws have increased as pressure has mounted for authorities to take action on irregular migration, according to several lawyers and researchers The New Humanitarian spoke to.

      “These [smuggling] cases are a mirror of the politics,” Patané, from Maastricht University, explained.
      Questionable investigations

      When it comes to investigations, law enforcement agencies rely heavily on the identification of smuggling suspects by officers on board European navy or coast guard ships participating in border control and surveillance missions operated by the EU border agency Frontex.

      In one appeal hearing The New Humanitarian attended on the Greek island of Samos in February 2022, a Syrian asylum seeker had been sentenced to 25 years in prison for steering a boat carrying other asylum seekers and migrants in October 2017. A member of the Greek Coast Guard called as the only prosecution witness at the hearing said she had not been present when the incident occurred and that the defendant had been identified by German Frontex officers. The appeals court released the defendant on parole.
      Frontex officers on rescue ships such as this German-flagged vessel, pictured in February 2022 at a pier on the Greek island of Samos, often identify who is driving the migrant boats, leading to charges once people are brought ashore.

      At the hearing, the judge admonished the Greek Coast Guard officer: "Next time [the Coast Guard] better send someone who was present during the incident and actually has something to say. The Greek Coast Guard doesn’t seem to understand that these are people on a trial for very serious charges and [are] facing years in prison.”

      At the same time, gathering testimony from other witnesses can be difficult. Usually, the only eyewitnesses are other asylum seekers and migrants who quickly disperse after they arrive on European shores. Due to the vulnerable position they are in, these witnesses can be easily persuaded or coerced into giving unreliable testimony.

      In Italy, a report by the NGOs Arci Porco Rosso and Alarm Phone found a recurring pattern of Italian authorities offering temporary legal status to witnesses in exchange for the identification of supposed smugglers. While the practice can encourage witnesses of a crime to come forward, lawyers and migration rights activists argue it can also be used to coerce testimonies and creates a perverse incentive for people to give false evidence.

      Eye witnesses are also often interviewed on board ships shortly after they are rescued, or are questioned by law enforcement immediately upon arrival in Europe when they are still in shock from the sea crossing. “They don’t even let them eat or take a shower,” said Lo Faro. The same is true for defendants, she added. “[The police] scare them to get a confession.”

      Making a phone call to alert state or NGO rescuers to their position at sea or turning on a phone to find GPS coordinates can also be used by prosecutors to build a case, according to a 2020 report of the NGO bordermonitoring.eu.

      This is what happened to G.N., a 23-year-old Syrian national, who is being referred to only by his initials so as to protect his identity. After reaching Samos by boat in 2019, G.N. was charged with facilitating unauthorised entry to Greece. The fact that he had turned on a navigation app on his phone was the only evidence the Greek Coast Guard used to identify him as the driver of the boat, according to Dimitris Choulis, a human rights lawyer on Samos who represented G.N. It took G.N.’s case three years to come to trial, but he was acquitted in February 2022.

      s for Badr, Italian police interviewed four witnesses out of the 494 people who had been on board the boat. The witnesses were granted residency permits shortly after they gave their testimony. Judges who looked at the case later concluded that their testimony was motivated by the possibility of gaining legal status as well as a scuffle Badr had with one of the witnesses. Badr was acquitted of all charges, but only after spending three and a half years in pre-trial detention.
      Barriers to a fair trial

      In Italy and Greece, where the justice system often moves slowly, asylum seekers and migrants accused of smuggling are almost always held in prison while awaiting trial because they usually don’t have housing and judges often consider them flight risks.

      Navigating the legal bureaucracies they are entangled in is frequently a baffling experience for asylum seekers and migrants. Many do not speak the language of the country they have just entered. Sometimes, they don’t even grasp that they are being accused of a crime.

      In February 2021, Mohamoud Al Anzi, from Kuwait, was convicted of facilitating illegal entry to the UK after helping steer a boat across the English Channel the previous summer. According to court documents, Al Anzi said during his trial that he believed his interview with the authorities after being arrested was about his asylum claim. He did not know he was being charged with a crime. “He also admitted that his defence statement was wrong… because he could not read or write and signed it without knowing its contents,” the court documents read.

      Issues like these are exacerbated by the fact that asylum seekers and migrants accused of smuggling in the UK, Italy, and Greece are usually appointed lawyers by the state. These public attorneys are not immigration law specialists and often meet their clients for the first time in court for their pre-trial detention hearings.

      Applying for legal aid to hire specialised attorneys is difficult. Some immigration attorneys end up working on smuggling cases pro bono, or in cases where asylum seekers and migrants are granted assistance, reimbursement and payment to lawyers from the state can take years to come through. On top of this, a recent report from the UK found that asylum seekers and migrants are frequently sent to smaller towns and cities where there is little to no legal aid available to them.

      In Italy, obtaining evidence from state authorities – such as video recordings of rescue operations – can cost up to 300 euros. Court-appointed attorneys, who are usually at the beginning of their careers, cannot afford to pay these costs up front.

      “You have to pay for all the defence expenses out of your own pocket and then you’ll get paid three years later and payment is ridiculous,” Benedetta Perego, a criminal defence lawyer based in Turin, Italy who has many migrants and asylum seekers among her clients, told The New Humanitarian.

      Interpretation is another major obstacle. “I’ll go as far as to say that in court, I have never had a hearing with a good interpreter,” said Perego.

      Britain’s Ministry of Justice is carrying out a review of the minimum qualifications that interpreters must have, but currently those appointed to a court don’t need to be registered or have minimum hours of experience. In Italy and Greece, court interpreters are rarely professionally trained, and each court keeps its own lists of interpreters, which often do not require any qualifications.

      “Literally anyone can go and claim to know a language and have their name added to the list. Τhere’s no regulation. Ιt’s just chaos,” said Vasiliki Ntantavasili, president of the Greek Panhellenic Association of Translators (PEM).

      In Badr’s case, for example, Pakistani witnesses were assigned Bangladeshi interpreters who did not speak the same language.
      ‘I am a victim’

      In December 2019, British authorities arrested Fouad Kakaei, an Iranian national, for steering a boat across the English Channel. He was convicted of facilitating illegal entry into the UK. In May 2021, the conviction was overturned on appeal. Kakaei’s lawyer successfully argued that UK law distinguished between the terms “entry” and “arrival”. While entering the UK illegally was an offence, arriving in UK territory and claiming asylum before passing immigration control was not.

      “The significance of this is that those who merely arrive, immediately claim asylum, and are as a result admitted to the UK while their asylum claim is processed have not entered the UK illegally. They therefore have not themselves committed an offence – and nor have those who assisted them,” his lawyer, Aneurin Brewer, explained in an article for the website Free Movement.

      Dozens of other people have been convicted of similar charges for steering boats across the English Channel since the number of people attempting the journey began to increase in 2019. “Until the case of Mr. Kakaei, no one had successfully challenged the legal premise of these prosecutions,” Brewer wrote.

      The court’s finding in Kakaei’s case paved the way for other convictions to start being overturned as well. In December 2021, three others were thrown out, and the accompanying ruling stated that criminal investigations against those caught piloting small boats were launched “without any careful analysis of the law and appropriate guidance to those conducting interviews, making charging decisions, and presenting cases to courts”.

      Seven more cases were overturned in February this year. After the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, one of the cleared men took a handwritten sign from his bag reading: “I am a victim.”

      However, the UK’s recently adopted Nationality and Borders Bill lowers the bar for prosecuting people for facilitating irregular entry and increases the potential penalty for those convicted of the offence to life imprisonment.

      In Italy, a 2016 ruling acquitting two defendants who had been accused of facilitating illegal migration also raised hopes that more cases would be overturned. But asylum seekers and migrants are still being arrested for people smuggling, according to Lo Faro.

      There are also likely far more asylum seekers and migrants who have been prosecuted but never received adequate legal defence and whose cases have not been subject to public scrutiny by journalists and human rights groups, according to lawyers and advocates. And even when people are found innocent, the damage has often already been done. Having a criminal record can make it more difficult for people to apply for asylum, and it is difficult for those who have been wrongfully convicted to sue or apply for compensation.

      Badr filed a case asking for one million euros in compensation for the three and a half years he spent behind bars – but the claim was rejected. His lawyer, Cinzia Pecoraro, who has taken on numerous cases of asylum seekers and migrants charged as smugglers in Sicily, was not surprised. “Italian legislation tends to avoid paying compensations,” she explained.

      After Badr was released, he was served an expulsion order – a common practice for people in his situation, according to lawyers in Sicily. Badr returned to Morocco, but still has nightmares about prison and experiences hallucinations, seeing his prison guards and other inmates in the streets and crowds. “It destroyed my life, my memory, my head, my future,” Badr told The New Humanitarian.

      Despite this, Pecoraro believes Badr is one of the lucky ones.

      “He had a lawyer that specialises in these kinds of cases,” she said. “But what about the other ones who are lost in the system and don’t have that?”


  • Friends of the Traffickers Italy’s Anti-Mafia Directorate and the “Dirty Campaign” to Criminalize Migration

    Afana Dieudonne often says that he is not a superhero. That’s Dieudonne’s way of saying he’s done things he’s not proud of — just like anyone in his situation would, he says, in order to survive. From his home in Cameroon to Tunisia by air, then by car and foot into the desert, across the border into Libya, and onto a rubber boat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Dieudonne has done a lot of surviving.

    In Libya, Dieudonne remembers when the smugglers managing the safe house would ask him for favors. Dieudonne spoke a little English and didn’t want trouble. He said the smugglers were often high and always armed. Sometimes, when asked, Dieudonne would distribute food and water among the other migrants. Other times, he would inform on those who didn’t follow orders. He remembers the traffickers forcing him to inflict violence on his peers. It was either them or him, he reasoned.

    On September 30, 2014, the smugglers pushed Dieudonne and 91 others out to sea aboard a rubber boat. Buzzing through the pitch-black night, the group watched lights on the Libyan coast fade into darkness. After a day at sea, the overcrowded dinghy began taking on water. Its passengers were rescued by an NGO vessel and transferred to an Italian coast guard ship, where officers picked Dieudonne out of a crowd and led him into a room for questioning.

    At first, Dieudonne remembers the questioning to be quick, almost routine. His name, his age, his nationality. And then the questions turned: The officers said they wanted to know how the trafficking worked in Libya so they could arrest the people involved. They wanted to know who had driven the rubber boat and who had held the navigation compass.

    “So I explained everything to them, and I also showed who the ‘captain’ was — captain in quotes, because there is no captain,” said Dieudonne. The real traffickers stay in Libya, he added. “Even those who find themselves to be captains, they don’t do it by choice.”

    For the smugglers, Dieudonne explained, “we are the customers, and we are the goods.”

    For years, efforts by the Italian government and the European Union to address migration in the central Mediterranean have focused on the people in Libya — interchangeably called facilitators, smugglers, traffickers, or militia members, depending on which agency you’re speaking to — whose livelihoods come from helping others cross irregularly into Europe. People pay them a fare to organize a journey so dangerous it has taken tens of thousands of lives.

    The European effort to dismantle these smuggling networks has been driven by an unlikely actor: the Italian anti-mafia and anti-terrorism directorate, a niche police office in Rome that gained respect in the 1990s and early 2000s for dismantling large parts of the Mafia in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy. According to previously unpublished internal documents, the office — called the Direzione nazionale antimafia e antiterrorismo, or DNAA, in Italian — took a front-and-center role in the management of Europe’s southern sea borders, in direct coordination with the EU border agency Frontex and European military missions operating off the Libyan coast.

    In 2013, under the leadership of a longtime anti-mafia prosecutor named Franco Roberti, the directorate pioneered a strategy that was unique — or at least new for the border officers involved. They would start handling irregular migration to Europe like they had handled the mob. The approach would allow Italian and European police, coast guard agencies, and navies, obliged by international law to rescue stranded refugees at sea, to at least get some arrests and convictions along the way.

    The idea was to arrest low-level operators and use coercion and plea deals to get them to flip on their superiors. That way, the reasoning went, police investigators could work their way up the food chain and eventually dismantle the smuggling rings in Libya. With every boat that disembarked in Italy, police would make a handful of arrests. Anybody found to have played an active role during the crossing, from piloting to holding a compass to distributing water or bailing out a leak, could be arrested under a new legal directive written by Roberti’s anti-mafia directorate. Charges ranged from simple smuggling to transnational criminal conspiracy and — if people asphyxiated below deck or drowned when a boat capsized — even murder. Judicial sources estimate the number of people arrested since 2013 to be in the thousands.

    For the police, prosecutors, and politicians involved, the arrests were an important domestic political win. At the time, public opinion in Italy was turning against migration, and the mugshots of alleged smugglers regularly held space on front pages throughout the country.

    But according to the minutes of closed-door conversations among some of the very same actors directing these cases, which were obtained by The Intercept under Italy’s freedom of information law, most anti-mafia prosecutions only focused on low-level boat drivers, often migrants who had themselves paid for the trip across. Few, if any, smuggling bosses were ever convicted. Documents of over a dozen trials reviewed by The Intercept show prosecutions built on hasty investigations and coercive interrogations.

    In the years that followed, the anti-mafia directorate went to great lengths to keep the arrests coming. According to the internal documents, the office coordinated a series of criminal investigations into the civilian rescue NGOs working to save lives in the Mediterranean, accusing them of hampering police work. It also oversaw efforts to create and train a new coast guard in Libya, with full knowledge that some coast guard officers were colluding with the same smuggling networks that Italian and European leaders were supposed to be fighting.

    Since its inception, the anti-mafia directorate has wielded unparalleled investigative tools and served as a bridge between politicians and the courts. The documents reveal in meticulous detail how the agency, alongside Italian and European officials, capitalized on those powers to crack down on alleged smugglers, most of whom they knew to be desperate people fleeing poverty and violence with limited resources to defend themselves in court.

    Tragedy and Opportunity

    The anti-mafia directorate was born in the early 1990s after a decade of escalating Mafia violence. By then, hundreds of prosecutors, politicians, journalists, and police officers had been shot, blown up, or kidnapped, and many more extorted by organized crime families operating in Italy and beyond.

    In Palermo, the Sicilian capital, prosecutor Giovanni Falcone was a rising star in the Italian judiciary. Falcone had won unprecedented success with an approach to organized crime based on tracking financial flows, seizing assets, and centralizing evidence gathered by prosecutor’s offices across the island.

    But as the Mafia expanded its reach into the rest of Europe, Falcone’s work proved insufficient.

    In September 1990, a Mafia commando drove from Germany to Sicily to gun down a 37-year-old judge. Weeks later, at a police checkpoint in Naples, the Sicilian driver of a truck loaded with weapons, explosives, and drugs was found to be a resident of Germany. A month after the arrests, Falcone traveled to Germany to establish an information-sharing mechanism with authorities there. He brought along a younger colleague from Naples, Franco Roberti.

    “We faced a stone wall,” recalled Roberti, still bitter three decades later. He spoke to us outside a cafe in a plum neighborhood in Naples. Seventy-three years old and speaking with the rasp of a lifelong smoker, Roberti described Italy’s Mafia problem in blunt language. He bemoaned a lack of international cooperation that, he said, continues to this day. “They claimed that there was no need to investigate there,” Roberti said, “that it was up to us to investigate Italians in Germany who were occasional mafiosi.”

    As the prosecutors traveled back to Italy empty-handed, Roberti remembers Falcone telling him that they needed “a centralized national organ able to speak directly to foreign judicial authorities and coordinate investigations in Italy.”

    “That is how the idea of the anti-mafia directorate was born,” Roberti said. The two began building what would become Italy’s first national anti-mafia force.

    At the time, there was tough resistance to the project. Critics argued that Falcone and Roberti were creating “super-prosecutors” who would wield outsize powers over the courts, while also being subject to political pressures from the government in Rome. It was, they argued, a marriage of police and the judiciary, political interests and supposedly apolitical courts — convenient for getting Mafia convictions but dangerous for Italian democracy.

    Still, in January 1992, the project was approved in Parliament. But Falcone would never get to lead it: Months later, a bomb set by the Mafia killed him, his wife, and the three agents escorting them. The attack put to rest any remaining criticism of Falcone’s plan.

    The anti-mafia directorate went on to become one of Italy’s most important institutions, the national authority over all matters concerning organized crime and the agency responsible for partially freeing the country from its century-old crucible. In the decades after Falcone’s death, the directorate did what many in Italy thought impossible, dismantling large parts of the five main Italian crime families and almost halving the Mafia-related murder rate.

    And yet, by the time Roberti took control in 2013, it had been years since the last high-profile Mafia prosecution, and the organization’s influence was waning. At the same time, Italy was facing unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving by boat. Roberti had an idea: The anti-mafia directorate would start working on what he saw as a different kind of mafia. The organization set its sights on Libya.

    “We thought we had to do something more coordinated to combat this trafficking,” Roberti remembered, “so I put everyone around a table.”

    “The main objective was to save lives, seize ships, and capture smugglers,” Roberti said. “Which we did.”

    Our Sea

    Dieudonne made it to the Libyan port city of Zuwara in August 2014. One more step across the Mediterranean, and he’d be in Europe. The smugglers he paid to get him across the sea took all of his possessions and put him in an abandoned building that served as a safe house to wait for his turn.

    Dieudonne told his story from a small office in Bari, Italy, where he runs a cooperative that helps recent arrivals access local education. Dieudonne is fiery and charismatic. He is constantly moving: speaking, texting, calling, gesticulating. Every time he makes a point, he raps his knuckles on the table in a one-two pattern. Dieudonne insisted that we publish his real name. Others who made the journey more recently — still pending decisions on their residence permits or refugee status — were less willing to speak openly.

    Dieudonne remembers the safe house in Zuwara as a string of constant violence. The smugglers would come once a day to leave food. Every day, they would ask who hadn’t followed their orders. Those inside the abandoned building knew they were less likely to be discovered by police or rival smugglers, but at the same time, they were not free to leave.

    “They’ve put a guy in the refrigerator in front of all of us, to show how the next one who misbehaves will be treated,” Dieudonne remembered, indignant. He witnessed torture, shootings, rape. “The first time you see it, it hurts you. The second time it hurts you less. The third time,” he said with a shrug, “it becomes normal. Because that’s the only way to survive.”

    “That’s why arresting the person who pilots a boat and treating them like a trafficker makes me laugh,” Dieudonne said. Others who have made the journey to Italy report having been forced to drive at gunpoint. “You only do it to be sure you don’t die there,” he said.

    Two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s government, much of Libya’s northwest coast had become a staging ground for smugglers who organized sea crossings to Europe in large wooden fishing boats. When those ships — overcrowded, underpowered, and piloted by amateurs — inevitably capsized, the deaths were counted by the hundreds.

    In October 2013, two shipwrecks off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa took over 400 lives, sparking public outcry across Europe. In response, the Italian state mobilized two plans, one public and the other private.

    “There was a big shock when the Lampedusa tragedy happened,” remembered Italian Sen. Emma Bonino, then the country’s foreign minister. The prime minister “called an emergency meeting, and we decided to immediately launch this rescue program,” Bonino said. “Someone wanted to call the program ‘safe seas.’ I said no, not safe, because it’s sure we’ll have other tragedies. So let’s call it Mare Nostrum.”

    Mare Nostrum — “our sea” in Latin — was a rescue mission in international waters off the coast of Libya that ran for one year and rescued more than 150,000 people. The operation also brought Italian ships, airplanes, and submarines closer than ever to Libyan shores. Roberti, just two months into his job as head of the anti-mafia directorate, saw an opportunity to extend the country’s judicial reach and inflict a lethal blow to smuggling rings in Libya.

    Five days after the start of Mare Nostrum, Roberti launched the private plan: a series of coordination meetings among the highest echelons of the Italian police, navy, coast guard, and judiciary. Under Roberti, these meetings would run for four years and eventually involve representatives from Frontex, Europol, an EU military operation, and even Libya.

    The minutes of five of these meetings, which were presented by Roberti in a committee of the Italian Parliament and obtained by The Intercept, give an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the events on Europe’s southern borders since the Lampedusa shipwrecks.

    In the first meeting, held in October 2013, Roberti told participants that the anti-mafia offices in the Sicilian city of Catania had developed an innovative way to deal with migrant smuggling. By treating Libyan smugglers like they had treated the Italian Mafia, prosecutors could claim jurisdiction over international waters far beyond Italy’s borders. That, Roberti said, meant they could lawfully board and seize vessels on the high seas, conduct investigations there, and use the evidence in court.

    The Italian authorities have long recognized that, per international maritime law, they are obligated to rescue people fleeing Libya on overcrowded boats and transport them to a place of safety. As the number of people attempting the crossing increased, many Italian prosecutors and coast guard officials came to believe that smugglers were relying on these rescues to make their business model work; therefore, the anti-mafia reasoning went, anyone who acted as crew or made a distress call on a boat carrying migrants could be considered complicit in Libyan trafficking and subject to Italian jurisdiction. This new approach drew heavily from legal doctrines developed in the United States during the 1980s aimed at stopping drug smuggling.

    European leaders were scrambling to find a solution to what they saw as a looming migration crisis. Italian officials thought they had the answer and publicly justified their decisions as a way to prevent future drownings.

    But according to the minutes of the 2013 anti-mafia meeting, the new strategy predated the Lampedusa shipwrecks by at least a week. Sicilian prosecutors had already written the plan to crack down on migration across the Mediterranean but lacked both the tools and public will to put it into action. Following the Lampedusa tragedy and the creation of Mare Nostrum, they suddenly had both.

    State of Necessity

    In the international waters off the coast of Libya, Dieudonne and 91 others were rescued by a European NGO called Migrant Offshore Aid Station. They spent two days aboard MOAS’s ship before being transferred to an Italian coast guard ship, Nave Dattilo, to be taken to Europe.

    Aboard the Dattilo, coast guard officers asked Dieudonne why he had left his home in Cameroon. He remembers them showing him a photograph of the rubber boat taken from the air. “They asked me who was driving, the roles and everything,” he remembered. “Then they asked me if I could tell him how the trafficking in Libya works, and then, they said, they would give me residence documents.”

    Dieudonne said that he was reluctant to cooperate at first. He didn’t want to accuse any of his peers, but he was also concerned that he could become a suspect. After all, he had helped the driver at points throughout the voyage.

    “I thought that if I didn’t cooperate, they might hurt me,” Dieudonne said. “Not physically hurt, but they could consider me dishonest, like someone who was part of the trafficking.”

    To this day, Dieudonne says he can’t understand why Italy would punish people for fleeing poverty and political violence in West Africa. He rattled off a list of events from the last year alone: draught, famine, corruption, armed gunmen, attacks on schools. “And you try to convict someone for managing to escape that situation?”

    The coast guard ship disembarked in Vibo Valentia, a city in the Italian region of Calabria. During disembarkation, a local police officer explained to a journalist that they had arrested five people. The journalist asked how the police had identified the accused.

    “A lot has been done by the coast guard, who picked [the migrants] up two days ago and managed to spot [the alleged smugglers],” the officer explained. “Then we have witness statements and videos.”

    Cases like these, where arrests are made on the basis of photo or video evidence and statements by witnesses like Dieudonne, are common, said Gigi Modica, a judge in Sicily who has heard many immigration and asylum cases. “It’s usually the same story. They take three or four people, no more. They ask them two questions: who was driving the boat, and who was holding the compass,” Modica explained. “That’s it — they get the names and don’t care about the rest.”

    Modica was one of the first judges in Italy to acquit people charged for driving rubber boats — known as “scafisti,” or boat drivers, in Italian — on the grounds that they had been forced to do so. These “state of necessity” rulings have since become increasingly common. Modica rattled off a list of irregularities he’s seen in such cases: systemic racism, witness statements that migrants later say they didn’t make, interrogations with no translator or lawyer, and in some cases, people who report being encouraged by police to sign documents renouncing their right to apply for asylum.

    “So often these alleged smugglers — scafisti — are normal people who were compelled to pilot a boat by smugglers in Libya,” Modica said.

    Documents of over a dozen trials reviewed by The Intercept show prosecutions largely built on testimony from migrants who are promised a residence permit in exchange for their collaboration. At sea, witnesses are interviewed by the police hours after their rescue, often still in a state of shock after surviving a shipwreck.

    In many cases, identical statements, typos included, are attributed to several witnesses and copied and pasted across different police reports. Sometimes, these reports have been enough to secure decadeslong sentences. Other times, under cross-examination in court, witnesses have contradicted the statements recorded by police or denied giving any testimony at all.

    As early as 2015, attendees of the anti-mafia meetings were discussing problems with these prosecutions. In a meeting that February, Giovanni Salvi, then the prosecutor of Catania, acknowledged that smugglers often abandoned migrant boats in international waters. Still, Italian police were steaming ahead with the prosecutions of those left on board.

    These prosecutions were so important that in some cases, the Italian coast guard decided to delay rescue when boats were in distress in order to “allow for the arrival of institutional ships that can conduct arrests,” a coast guard commander explained at the meeting.

    When asked about the commander’s comments, the Italian coast guard said that “on no occasion” has the agency ever delayed a rescue operation. Delaying rescue for any reason goes against international and Italian law, and according to various human rights lawyers in Europe, could give rise to criminal liability.

    NGOs in the Crosshairs

    Italy canceled Mare Nostrum after one year, citing budget constraints and a lack of European collaboration. In its wake, the EU set up two new operations, one via Frontex and the other a military effort called Operation Sophia. These operations focused not on humanitarian rescue but on border security and people smuggling from Libya. Beginning in 2015, representatives from Frontex and Operation Sophia were included in the anti-mafia directorate meetings, where Italian prosecutors ensured that both abided by the new investigative strategy.

    Key to these investigations were photos from the rescues, like the aerial image that Dieudonne remembers the Italian coast guard showing him, which gave police another way to identify who piloted the boats and helped navigate.

    In the absence of government rescue ships, a fleet of civilian NGO vessels began taking on a large number of rescues in the international waters off the coast of Libya. These ships, while coordinated by the Italian coast guard rescue center in Rome, made evidence-gathering difficult for prosecutors and judicial police. According to the anti-mafia meeting minutes, some NGOs, including MOAS, routinely gave photos to Italian police and Frontex. Others refused, arguing that providing evidence for investigations into the people they saved would undermine their efficacy and neutrality.

    In the years following Mare Nostrum, the NGO fleet would come to account for more than one-third of all rescues in the central Mediterranean, according to estimates by Operation Sophia. A leaked status report from the operation noted that because NGOs did not collect information from rescued migrants for police, “information essential to enhance the understanding of the smuggling business model is not acquired.”

    In a subsequent anti-mafia meeting, six prosecutors echoed this concern. NGO rescues meant that police couldn’t interview migrants at sea, they said, and cases were getting thrown out for lack of evidence. A coast guard admiral explained the importance of conducting interviews just after a rescue, when “a moment of empathy has been established.”

    “It is not possible to carry out this task if the rescue intervention is carried out by ships of the NGOs,” the admiral told the group.

    The NGOs were causing problems for the DNAA strategy. At the meetings, Italian prosecutors and representatives from the coast guard, navy, and Interior Ministry discussed what they could do to rein in the humanitarian organizations. At the same time, various prosecutors were separately fixing their investigative sights on the NGOs themselves.

    In late 2016, an internal report from Frontex — later published in full by The Intercept — accused an NGO vessel of directly receiving migrants from Libyan smugglers, attributing the information to “Italian authorities.” The claim was contradicted by video evidence and the ship’s crew.

    Months later, Carmelo Zuccaro, the prosecutor of Catania, made public that he was investigating rescue NGOs. “Together with Frontex and the navy, we are trying to monitor all these NGOs that have shown that they have great financial resources,” Zuccaro told an Italian newspaper. The claim went viral in Italian and European media. “Friends of the traffickers” and “migrant taxi service” became common slurs used toward humanitarian NGOs by anti-immigration politicians and the Italian far right.

    Zuccaro would eventually walk back his claims, telling a parliamentary committee that he was working off a hypothesis at the time and had no evidence to back it up.

    In an interview with a German newspaper in February 2017, the director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, refrained from explicitly criticizing the work of rescue NGOs but did say they were hampering police investigations in the Mediterranean. As aid organizations assumed a larger percentage of rescues, Leggeri said, “it is becoming more difficult for the European security authorities to find out more about the smuggling networks through interviews with migrants.”

    “That smear campaign was very, very deep,” remembered Bonino, the former foreign minister. Referring to Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister at the time, she added, “I was trying to push Minniti not to be so obsessed with people coming, but to make a policy of integration in Italy. But he only focused on Libya and smuggling and criminalizing NGOs with the help of prosecutors.”

    Bonino explained that the action against NGOs was part of a larger plan to change European policy in the central Mediterranean. The first step was the shift away from humanitarian rescue and toward border security and smuggling. The second step “was blaming the NGOs or arresting them, a sort of dirty campaign against them,” she said. “The results of which after so many years have been no convictions, no penalties, no trials.”

    Finally, the third step was to build a new coast guard in Libya to do what the Europeans couldn’t, per international law: intercept people at sea and bring them back to Libya, the country from which they had just fled.

    At first, leaders at Frontex were cautious. “From Frontex’s point of view, we look at Libya with concern; there is no stable state there,” Leggeri said in the 2017 interview. “We are now helping to train 60 officers for a possible future Libyan coast guard. But this is at best a beginning.”

    Bonino saw this effort differently. “They started providing support for their so-called coast guard,” she said, “which were the same traffickers changing coats.”
    Rescued migrants disembarking from a Libyan coast guard ship in the town of Khoms, a town 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the capital on October 1, 2019.

    Same Uniforms, Same Ships

    Safe on land in Italy, Dieudonne was never called to testify in court. He hopes that none of his peers ended up in prison but said he would gladly testify against the traffickers if called. Aboard the coast guard ship, he remembers, “I gave the police contact information for the traffickers, I gave them names.”

    The smuggling operations in Libya happened out in the open, but Italian police could only go as far as international waters. Leaked documents from Operation Sophia describe years of efforts by European officials to get Libyan police to arrest smugglers. Behind closed doors, top Italian and EU officials admitted that these same smugglers were intertwined with the new Libyan coast guard that Europe was creating and that working with them would likely go against international law.

    As early as 2015, multiple officials at the anti-mafia meetings noted that some smugglers were uncomfortably close to members of the Libyan government. “Militias use the same uniforms and the same ships as the Libyan coast guard that the Italian navy itself is training,” Rear Adm. Enrico Credendino, then in charge of Operation Sophia, said in 2017. The head of the Libyan coast guard and the Libyan minister of defense, both allies of the Italian government, Credendino added, “have close relationships with some militia bosses.”

    One of the Libyan coast guard officers playing both sides was Abd al-Rahman Milad, also known as Bija. In 2019, the Italian newspaper Avvenire revealed that Bija participated in a May 2017 meeting in Sicily, alongside Italian border police and intelligence officials, that was aimed at stemming migration from Libya. A month later, he was condemned by the U.N. Security Council for his role as a top member of a powerful trafficking militia in the coastal town of Zawiya, and for, as the U.N. put it, “sinking migrant boats using firearms.”

    According to leaked documents from Operation Sophia, coast guard officers under Bija’s command were trained by the EU between 2016 and 2018.

    While the Italian government was prosecuting supposed smugglers in Italy, they were also working with people they knew to be smugglers in Libya. Minniti, Italy’s then-interior minister, justified the deals his government was making in Libya by saying that the prospect of mass migration from Africa made him “fear for the well-being of Italian democracy.”

    In one of the 2017 anti-mafia meetings, a representative of the Interior Ministry, Vittorio Pisani, outlined in clear terms a plan that provided for the direct coordination of the new Libyan coast guard. They would create “an operation room in Libya for the exchange of information with the Interior Ministry,” Pisani explained, “mainly on the position of NGO ships and their rescue operations, in order to employ the Libyan coast guard in its national waters.”

    And with that, the third step of the plan was set in motion. At the end of the meeting, Roberti suggested that the group invite representatives from the Libyan police to their next meeting. In an interview with The Intercept, Roberti confirmed that Libyan representatives attended at least two anti-mafia meetings and that he himself met Bija at a meeting in Libya, one month after the U.N. Security Council report was published. The following year, the Security Council committee on Libya sanctioned Bija, freezing his assets and banning him from international travel.

    “We needed to have the participation of Libyan institutions. But they did nothing, because they were taking money from the traffickers,” Roberti told us from the cafe in Naples. “They themselves were the traffickers.”
    A Place of Safety

    Roberti retired from the anti-mafia directorate in 2017. He said that under his leadership, the organization was able to create a basis for handling migration throughout Europe. Still, Roberti admits that his expansion of the DNAA into migration issues has had mixed results. Like his trip to Germany in the ’90s with Giovanni Falcone, Roberti said the anti-mafia strategy faltered because of a lack of collaboration: with the NGOs, with other European governments, and with Libya.

    “On a European level, the cooperation does not work,” Roberti said. Regarding Libya, he added, “We tried — I believe it was right, the agreements [the government] made. But it turned out to be a failure in the end.”

    The DNAA has since expanded its operations. Between 2017 and 2019, the Italian government passed two bills that put the anti-mafia directorate in charge of virtually all illegal immigration matters. Since 2017, five Sicilian prosecutors, all of whom attended at least one anti-mafia coordination meeting, have initiated 15 separate legal proceedings against humanitarian NGO workers. So far there have been no convictions: Three cases have been thrown out in court, and the rest are ongoing.

    Earlier this month, news broke that Sicilian prosecutors had wiretapped journalists and human rights lawyers as part of one of these investigations, listening in on legally protected conversations with sources and clients. The Italian justice ministry has opened an investigation into the incident, which could amount to criminal behavior, according to Italian legal experts. The prosecutor who approved the wiretaps attended at least one DNAA coordination meeting, where investigations against NGOs were discussed at length.

    As the DNAA has extended its reach, key actors from the anti-mafia coordination meetings have risen through the ranks of Italian and European institutions. One prosecutor, Federico Cafiero de Raho, now runs the anti-mafia directorate. Salvi, the former prosecutor of Catania, is the equivalent of Italy’s attorney general. Pisani, the former Interior Ministry representative, is deputy head of the Italian intelligence services. And Roberti is a member of the European Parliament.

    Cafiero de Raho stands by the investigations and arrests that the anti-mafia directorate has made over the years. He said the coordination meetings were an essential tool for prosecutors and police during difficult times.

    When asked about his specific comments during the meetings — particularly statements that humanitarian NGOs needed to be regulated and multiple admissions that members of the new Libyan coast guard were involved in smuggling activities — Cafiero de Raho said that his remarks should be placed in context, a time when Italy and the EU were working to build a coast guard in a part of Libya that was largely ruled by local militias. He said his ultimate goal was what, in the DNAA coordination meetings, he called the “extrajudicial solution”: attempts to prove the existence of crimes against humanity in Libya so that “the United Nation sends troops to Libya to dismantle migrants camps set up by traffickers … and retake control of that territory.”

    A spokesperson for the EU’s foreign policy arm, which ran Operation Sophia, refused to directly address evidence that leaders of the European military operation knew that parts of the new Libyan coast guard were also involved in smuggling activities, only noting that Bija himself wasn’t trained by the EU. A Frontex spokesperson stated that the agency “was not involved in the selection of officers to be trained.”

    In 2019, the European migration strategy changed again. Now, the vast majority of departures are intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and brought back to Libya. In March of that year, Operation Sophia removed all of its ships from the rescue area and has since focused on using aerial patrols to direct and coordinate the Libyan coast guard. Human rights lawyers in Europe have filed six legal actions against Italy and the EU as a result, calling the practice refoulement by proxy: facilitating the return of migrants to dangerous circumstances in violation of international law.

    Indeed, throughout four years of coordination meetings, Italy and the EU were admitting privately that returning people to Libya would be illegal. “Fundamental human rights violations in Libya make it impossible to push migrants back to the Libyan coast,” Pisani explained in 2015. Two years later, he outlined the beginnings of a plan that would do exactly that.

    The Result of Mere Chance

    Dieudonne knows he was lucky. The line that separates suspect and victim can be entirely up to police officers’ first impressions in the minutes or hours following a rescue. According to police reports used in prosecutions, physical attributes like having “a clearer skin tone” or behavior aboard the ship, including scrutinizing police movements “with strange interest,” were enough to rouse suspicion.

    In a 2019 ruling that acquitted seven alleged smugglers after three years of pretrial detention, judges wrote that “the selection of the suspects on one side, and the witnesses on the other, with the only exception of the driver, has almost been the result of mere chance.”

    Carrying out work for their Libyan captors has cost other migrants in Italy lengthy prison sentences. In September 2019, a 22-year-old Guinean nicknamed Suarez was arrested upon his arrival to Italy. Four witnesses told police he had collaborated with prison guards in Zawiya, at the immigrant detention center managed by the infamous Bija.

    “Suarez was also a prisoner, who then took on a job,” one of the witnesses told the court. Handing out meals or taking care of security is what those who can’t afford to pay their ransom often do in order to get out, explained another. “Unfortunately, you would have to be there to understand the situation,” the first witness said. Suarez was sentenced to 20 years in prison, recently reduced to 12 years on appeal.

    Dieudonne remembered his journey at sea vividly, but with surprising cool. When the boat began taking on water, he tried to help. “One must give help where it is needed.” At his office in Bari, Dieudonne bent over and moved his arms in a low scooping motion, like he was bailing water out of a boat.

    “Should they condemn me too?” he asked. He finds it ironic that it was the Libyans who eventually arrested Bija on human trafficking charges this past October. The Italians and Europeans, he said with a laugh, were too busy working with the corrupt coast guard commander. (In April, Bija was released from prison after a Libyan court absolved him of all charges. He was promoted within the coast guard and put back on the job.)

    Dieudonne thinks often about the people he identified aboard the coast guard ship in the middle of the sea. “I told the police the truth. But if that collaboration ends with the conviction of an innocent person, it’s not good,” he said. “Because I know that person did nothing. On the contrary, he saved our lives by driving that raft.”


    #Méditerranée #Italie #Libye #ONG #criminalisation_de_la_solidarité #solidarité #secours #mer_Méditerranée #asile #migrations #réfugiés #violence #passeurs #Méditerranée_centrale #anti-mafia #anti-terrorisme #Direzione_nazionale_antimafia_e_antiterrorismo #DNAA #Frontex #Franco_Roberti #justice #politique #Zuwara #torture #viol #Mare_Nostrum #Europol #eaux_internationales #droit_de_la_mer #droit_maritime #juridiction_italienne #arrestations #Gigi_Modica #scafista #scafisti #état_de_nécessité #Giovanni_Salvi #NGO #Operation_Sophia #MOAS #DNA #Carmelo_Zuccaro #Zuccaro #Fabrice_Leggeri #Leggeri #Marco_Minniti #Minniti #campagne #gardes-côtes_libyens #milices #Enrico_Credendino #Abd_al-Rahman_Milad #Bija ##Abdurhaman_al-Milad #Al_Bija #Zawiya #Vittorio_Pisani #Federico_Cafiero_de_Raho #solution_extrajudiciaire #pull-back #refoulement_by_proxy #refoulement #push-back #Suarez

    ping @karine4 @isskein @rhoumour

  • Salvini avverte i migranti : « Più partite più morirete, noi non apriamo i porti »

    Il vicepremier e ministro dell’Interno, Matteo Salvini, h parlato a Mattino 5: «Noi stiamo lavorando in Africa. In Italia è finito il business dei trafficanti e di chi non scappa dalla guerra. I porti italiani sono chiusi»
    "I migranti - ha spiegato - si salvano, come ha fatto la guardia costiera libica, e si riportano indietro, così la gente smetterà di pagare gli #scafisti per un viaggio che non ha futuro. Più persone partono più persone muoiono".


    Je crois que les limites de l’#indécence ont été atteints...
    #Salvini #Matteo_Salvini #Italie #mots #vocabulaire #terminologie #ports #migrations #catégorisation #tri #réfugiés #ports_fermés #business #trafiquants #passeurs #smugglers #smuggling #gardes-côtes_libyens #pull-back #refoulement #push-back #scafista #mourir_en_mer #mort #Méditerranée #décès #business

  • En Italie, les migrants sont arrêtés à la chaîne pour avoir tenu la barre

    Depuis 2013, plus de 1500 migrants ont été arrêtés après leur arrivée en Sicile, accusés d’être des passeurs. Des chiffres élevés qui interpellent : parmi eux, combien d’innocents ?

    Quand il a été récupéré en haute mer en automne 2016 par un bateau italien avec 157 autres compagnons d’infortune, Moussa*, un Gambien de 20 ans, pensait respirer. Mais son cauchemar n’était pas terminé. Dans le port de Palerme, une longue file d’officiels et de secouristes l’attendait. « A peine arrivé, j’ai été arrêté par des policiers. Sans que je comprenne ce qui m’arrivait, je me suis retrouvé en prison », raconte-t-il. Une fois sa surprise passée, Moussa demande des explications. Il n’en aura pas.

    Au lieu de cela, une question revient sans cesse : « Est-ce que tu pilotais l’embarcation ? » Pour la police italienne, il dirigeait le bateau qui lui a permis de quitter la Libye. Il passera près de six mois en prison et son jugement n’a toujours pas été rendu. Son avocat Marco Di Maria l’assure : « Lorsque les policiers palermitains ont arrêté Moussa et neuf autres migrants, ils n’ont fait aucune vérification sur leurs liens avec une organisation criminelle en Libye. Ils se sont contentés de les mettre en prison. »

    Une situation qui est devenue la norme. La semaine dernière, la justice italienne a libéré quatorze migrants accusés d’avoir conduit le bateau qui leur a permis de traverser la Méditerranée. Certains d’entre eux, comme Alex, un Guinéen, avaient déjà fait vingt-huit mois de prison.
    Guerre aux passeurs

    Cette intransigeance date d’octobre 2013, quand 368 Erythréens se sont noyés au large de l’île de Lampedusa. Horrifiée, l’opinion publique italienne réclame des coupables. La justice déclare alors la guerre aux passeurs. En première ligne, l’une des divisions anti-mafia se voit assigner la plupart des affaires de traite d’êtres humains.

    En cinq ans, 1500 migrants ont été arrêtés et des centaines d’entre eux emprisonnés. Responsable de la question migratoire pour l’association culturelle Arci Sicilia, Fausto Melluso assure que les erreurs judiciaires sont très fréquentes. « Les procureurs ont renversé le principe de la présomption d’innocence. Les autorités préfèrent arrêter dix innocents pour trouver un éventuel coupable. Ces malheureux sont souvent relâchés après plusieurs années de détention, lorsqu’on se rend compte de leur innocence. Mais au lieu de les aider, les autorités leur donnent une semaine pour quitter le pays. »

    Selon l’activiste, l’accélération des procédures n’améliore pas la situation. « Les vrais trafiquants d’êtres humains ne quittent jamais les eaux libyennes. Grâce à leurs très bonnes relations avec les gardes-côtes libyens, ils ne risquent pas d’être arrêtés. En général, un bateau plus petit suit l’embarcation remplie de migrants. Une fois dans les eaux internationales, les passeurs se jettent à l’eau et changent de bateau. Parfois, ils restent sur la plage et choisissent deux migrants au hasard, un pour la navigation et un qui regarde la boussole. »
    « Des permis de séjour pour les témoins »

    L’avocate Cinzia Pecoraro défend de nombreux migrants accusés d’être des passeurs. Ces derniers sont souvent représentés par des avocats commis d’office, qui ont tout intérêt à bâcler les procédures afin d’être payés plus rapidement. Pour l’avocate sicilienne, la procédure mise en place par la justice de son île souffre de graves défauts. « Il arrive que les témoins reçoivent un permis de séjour suite à leur collaboration. Cela crée une incitation à raconter ce que la police veut entendre. De plus, les entretiens se passent sur les navires des gardes-côtes. Une fois débarqués en Italie, les témoins disparaissent dans la nature. Du coup, nous n’avons aucune possibilité de vérifier lors du procès ce qu’ils ont raconté. »

    Autre problème de taille : en cas de noyade ou de décès durant la traversée, les migrants à la barre du bateau sont inculpés pour homicide par les procureurs. Les peines qu’ils risquent deviennent alors très lourdes, de 30 ans à la prison à vie. Ne parlant pas la langue, incapables de se défendre, ils se retrouvent seuls face à l’entièreté du système judiciaire. « Lorsque vous êtes coincés comme des sardines dans un bateau qui prend l’eau, vous faites quoi ? Vous attendez qu’il coule ou vous prenez la barre et vous écopez l’eau ? Ces gens sont des héros que nous traitons comme des criminels », dénonce l’avocate.
    « Prendre la barre ou mourir »

    C’est cet argument du dernier recours qui a convaincu le juge Gigi Omar Modica, le premier juge à avoir acquitté deux Libyens accusés d’être des passeurs en 2016. « Après quelques recherches, je me suis rendu compte que les migrants n’avaient pas d’autre choix. Ces deux personnes étaient menacées par des trafiquants armés. C’était prendre la barre ou mourir. » Avant d’ajouter : « Pourtant, les procureurs font comme s’ils avaient pris cette décision en toute liberté. »

    Si l’opinion publique semble prendre conscience de ce problème, Moussa devra s’armer de patience car son procès est toujours en cours. Il devra également faire face à la détermination des procureurs. Depuis 2016, le Ministère public de Palerme a fait recours contre chaque acquittement.

    *Prénom d’emprunt


    #passeurs #Italie #migrations #asile #réfugiés #condamnations #smugglers #smuggling #criminalisation #emprisonnement #scafisti #scafista

  • Le Parole Sono Importanti – Perché prendercela con gli Scafisti è come dare capate ad un albero

    Il primo ricordo che ho del termine “Scafisti” risale agli anni Novanta, quando migliaia di Albanesi attraversavano il canale di Otranto per venire qui a ricostruirsi una vita (in moltissimi ce l’hanno fatta, e la comunità albanese è oggi una delle più integrate in Italia, ma questa è un’altra storia). Anche durante quell’esodo si moriva, e anche allora il nemico pubblico era lo Scafista. Lo Scafista era già senza scrupoli per antonomasia, si parlava di guerra agli Scafisti, di profughi nelle mani degli Scafisti, di benpensanti (il termine buonisti è nuovo di zecca) che finiscono per fare il gioco degli Scafisti.

    Tutto è cambiato, e non è cambiato niente.


    #mots #vocabulaire #terminologie #scafisti #trafficanti #passeurs #smugglers #trafiquants #smuggling #Traffickers #migrations #asile #réfugiés #scafista
    #Italie #condamnations #criminalisation #emprisonnement

    • Scafisti per forza

      “I trafficanti ci hanno detto che le ultime due persone a imbarcarsi avrebbero dovuto prendere timone e bussola. Io gli ho detto che non sapevo usare la bussola né guidare la barca”, dice un minorenne africano sospettato dalle autorità italiane di essere uno scafista. “Hanno risposto che non gli interessava. Poi mi hanno picchiato con un tubo”. Secondo i dati del ministero dell’interno, in Italia dal 2013 sono stati arrestati oltre 1.500 scafisti. Ma quanti di questi erano davvero complici dei trafficanti e non semplici migranti obbligati a mettersi al timone? “Se ti viene detto: ‘porta il gommone’ non puoi dire di no, è una questione di vita o di morte”, spiega Amir Sharaf, interprete del Gruppo interforze di contrasto all’immigrazione clandestina.

      Nei tribunali italiani le pene richieste per chi è accusato di aver guidato un gommone di migranti sono spesso molto severe. Per la prima volta però, l’8 settembre 2016, nella sentenza di assoluzione di due presunti scafisti, un giudice di Palermo ha descritto la loro condizione come dettata da uno “stato di necessità”.


      Quelques citations transcrite à partir de la vidéo

      Carlo Parini, Gruppo interforze contrasto immigrazione clandestina:

      «La figura dello scafista non è la figura di uno veramente appartenente all’organizzazione»

      #Statisiques #chiffres:
      «Secondo i dati del ministero dell’interno, tra agosto 2015 e luglio 2016, sono stati arrestati 793 scafisti. Dal 2013 gli arresti sono stati 1511»
      "Per le autorità italiane non è facile individuare i responsabili del traffico di esseri umani in Libia. E spesso gli scafisti sono solo migranti costretti a condurre i gommoni"

      Amir Sharaf, interprete, Gruppo interforze contrasto immigrazione clandestina

      «Gli scafisti, quelli che arrivano dalla Libia, sono migranti normali, che vengono costretti, ad un certo punto anche picchiati, malmenati, minacciati. Se ti trovi in Libia, nella stessa condizione, e ti viene detto: ’Tocca (?) quel gommone!’ Tu non potresti mai dire no. Perché dire no è un suicidio. Lì, c’è una necessità di non morire»

      Giusy Latino, progetto Open Europe:
      Projet qui s’occupe de loger et conseiller les personnes qui sont identifiées, à leur débarquement, comme «scafisti».
      Giusy dit:

      «Sicuramente passano da qualche giorno a qualche settimana di carcere. Con un’accusa del genere, il passaggio obbligato è il carcere»

      Lamin Sar, presunto scafista:

      «Mi chiamo Lamin Sar, vengo dal Senegal, ho 18 anni. Quando sono arrivato in Libia ho pagato con i miei soldi. In un primo momento un libico guidava la barca. Dopo aver chiamato i soccorsi, ha detto: ’Ritorno in Libia.’ Io non sapevo guidare la barca, però in quel momento tutti gli altri si sono vergognati e per paura non volevano fare niente. Sono stato io a correre un rischio per aiutare gli altri. Però avevo paura come gli altri. Quando siamo arrivati in Italia mi hanno portato subito in prigione. Il mio primo giorno in Italia ho dormito in prigione. Dopo qualche giorno mi hanno detto di andare in un ufficio e un ragazzo senegalese che parla italiano meglio di me mi ha detto: ’Loro dicono che sei tu che guidavi la barca.’ In quel momento ho capito perché ero in prigione».

      «L’8 settembre 2016 il giudice di palermo Omar Modica ha assolto due presunti scafisti, accusati anche di omicidio. Nella traversata erano morte 12 persone. L’accusa aveva chiesto l’ergastolo. Nella sentenza di assoluzione si parla per la prima volta di #stato_di_necessità, affermando che gli accusati erano stati costretti a guidare il gommone»

      Gigi Omar Modica, giudice di Palermo:

      Cosa si chiede a questi soggetti? Gli si chiede: chi era alla guida del mezzo e chi portava la bussola. Punto. Si scava? A volte credo di no. A ciò va aggiunto che chi parla dopo un po’ ha il permesso di soggiorno per motivi di giustizia, perché testimone di un processo. Queste cose non si sanno? Gli immigrati non lo sanno? Lo fanno spontaneamente? No, ve lo dico io. Questo per capire come non siamo di fronte al classico testimone con la pancia piena, tranquillo, beato, che va lì e dice tutto. Siamo di fronte a soggetti che hanno paura a parlare e che spontaneamente non ti dicono nulla. Se poi noi ce la prendiamo con questi morti di fame che materialmente vengono catturati, che vengono colti alla guida di questi natanti, non compiamo un atto di giustizia. Quindi le pene che vengono richieste, pene stellari, mi sembra tutto profondamente ingiusto."

      #justice #injustice

      Cinzia Pecoraro, avvocato:

      «Spesso i trafficanti utilizzano come scafisti dei minori. Nel caso di un ragazzo che sto seguendo, che è stato arrestato come presunto scafista, ha dichiarato la sua data di nascita, settembre 1999, però in Italia vi è un metodo utilizzato per stabilire l’età anagrafica di un soggetto: radiografia del polso. E’ stata effettuata la radiografia del posto di Joof Alfusainey ed è risultato avere più di 18 anni. Joof è stato detenuto per quasi un anno presso il carcere di Palermo, quindi tra soggetti maggiorenni. Joof all’epoca aveva 15 anni»

      Joof Alfusainey, presunto scafista

      «Mi chiamo Alfusainey Joof, vengo dal Gambia et ho 17 anni. Sono arrivato in Italia l’11 giugno 2016, un sabato. Ho attraversato Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria. Poi sono arrivato in Libia. Questa era la mia tessera di studente quando vivevo in Gambia. Perché in Gambia, se sei minorenne, non puoi avere documenti come il passaporto.»

      –-> après recours de l’avocate, Joof a été considéré mineur.

      La suite du témoignage de Joof:

      «Arrivati in Italia, mi hanno fatto scendere dalla nave soccorso per primo caricandomi su un’ambulanza e portandomi in ospedale. Arrivato in ospedale ho visto la polizia, a quel punto ho scoperto di essere accusato di aver guidato la barca. Ho provato molte volte a dirgli che non ero stato io a guidare la barca, ma a loro non interessava. Non mi hanno neanche dato la possibilità di parlare, anche se era un mio diritto. Ma a loro non interessava e continuavano a dire che ero stato io. Mi stavano accusando senza prove. Non avevano nulla, nessuna foto, nessun video che mi incriminassero. Solo parole.»

      Cinzia Pecoraro, avvocato:

      «Una risposta all’opinione pubblica, la si deve dare. Quindi sicuramente si sceglie la risposta dei numeri. Quindi: tot sbarchi, tot arresti, tot condanne. E già è una risposta all’opinione pubblica. E quindi i numeri adesso sono altissimi, le aule di giustizia traboccano di questi procedimenti, che spesso però colpiscono a mio parere le persone sbagliate.»

      La suite du témoignage de Joof:

      «Alcune persone in Africa, soprattutto in Libia, sanno che una volta in Italia, chi accusa qualcuno di aver guidato la barca ottiene un permesso di soggiorno. Anche io avrei potuto indicare qualcuno, e dire che era stato lui a guidare la barca, e così avrei ottenuto il permesso di soggiorno. Ma cosa avrei dovuto fare? Io non volevo accusare nessuno. Non volevo mettere un’altra persone nei guai.»

      #guerre_entre_pauvres #chantage

      #test_osseux #âge #mineur #majeur #âge_osseux #criminalisation

    • Why is the Syracuse man who saved thousands of migrants out of a job?

      After more than a decade of heading Sicily’s taskforce on illegal immigration, #Carlo_Parini has been told his role will end.

      The history of the migrant crisis in the central Mediterranean, the story of its dead and shipwrecked, is all contained in a messy desk overflowing with files and folders in a tiny room in the prosecutor’s office in Syracuse.

      Somewhere among the heaps of papers is Commissario Carlo Parini, head of an illegal-immigration taskforce. Parini is pensive. Late last month it was announced that the taskforce’s office in the historic south-eastern Sicilian city was closing, with an abrupt explanation: “Arrivals from Libya in Sicily have decreased by 80%, and this office is no longer needed.”

      From 2006 until earlier this month, the 56-year-old Parini – who at 6ft 5in towers over most people – headed the Interforce Group on Illegal Immigration in Sicily (Gicic). In that time nearly 200,000 people arrived in the island. Their stories are all catalogued in the dusty folders that cover his office. Over the past few days they have been transferred to cardboard boxes, their final destination the basement.

      “They say the arrivals are over,” says Parini. “And yet this year we intercepted 12 sailing boats transporting 900 migrants from Turkey. We’ve followed these investigations for many years. We had almost arrived at the heart of the criminal organisation. It’s a shame to stop now.”

      Looking around the office in search of something he fears has been lost, he suddenly exclaims. “Here it is! Finally! I’d been looking for this for days. Read this: it’s the first migrant case I worked on.”

      He remembers it as if it were yesterday. Thirty-five shivering Sri Lankans arrived in Italy from Egypt aboard a wooden boat one winter evening in 1999, when Parini was still a junior anti-Mafia police officer. As he waited for their arrival at the port of Riposto, just along the coast from Syracuse, he had no idea that the moment would change his life and set the course for the next 20 years of his career.

      The following day the newspapers in Italy reported confidently that the arrivals were “an isolated case”. No one – not the police, and certainly not the press – could have predicted then what would happen over the coming years, when Europe would be forced to come to grips with the most intense migrant and refugee crisis since the second world war. That arrival in the port of Riposto was a mere hint of what was to come.

      In 2000, 2,782 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Sicily; 18,225 came in 2002. In 2011 it was 57,181. Between 2006 and last November, Parini handled 1,084 arrivals, investigated the deaths of more than 2,000 migrants, and arrested 1,081 people accused of human trafficking. This last total earned him the attention of the international press, who lionised him. It even earned him a nickname: “Smuggler Hunter”.

      “We worked day and night, relentlessly,” Parini says. “We’d spend entire days at the port. One of my colleagues had a heart attack. He had had no sleep for three consecutive days. And then that cursed day came in October 2013 that changed the migrant crisis for ever. That day that changed us all.”

      The mass drowning off Lampedusa on 3 October 2013 marked a turning point. That night 368 people perished in the sea in an attempt to reach Sicily. Until then European governments had largely watched from their capitals. Now they agreed that it was time to act. On 18 October, Italy launched the Mare Nostrum operation, a military intervention for humanitarian ends intended to prevent such tragedies. Parini became one of the commanders of the mission, and aboard the military ship San Giorgio he began patrolling the waters of the central Mediterranean and rescuing migrant boats in distress.

      “We saved thousands of lives,” Parini says. “And at the same time we attempted to investigate the people involved in the trafficking business, who were exploiting migrants and getting rich in the process.”

      Italian prosecutors convinced their EU counterparts to join the crusade on the premise of a somewhat romantic principle: that the same strategy employed to capture mafiosi could be used to combat people-smugglers. Sicilian prosecutors suspected that among smugglers there was a power structure regulated by an honour code similar to the Cosa Nostra’s. Wire taps – such a vital weapon in the fight against the Mafia – also came in handy. Sitting behind their desks, the prosecutors eavesdropped on hundreds of people in Africa.

      But without credible intelligence the hunt from a distance against human traffickers was deeply frustrating. “We arrested thousands of boat drivers,” says Parini. “That was our duty. But the real smugglers were in Libya. And we didn’t have men in Libya.’’

      While the prosecutors continued their hunt, in Europe the presence of migrants and refugees led to protests, a rise in rightwing populism, and authoritarian and repressive policies towards asylum seekers.

      Mare Nostrum was superseded by Operation Triton, which was intended to patrol the Mediterranean more than save lives. In 2015 non-governmental ships began rescue operations in Libyan waters, saving tens of thousands of lives, while the Italian authorities began attacking aid groups, confiscating vessels without just cause.

      “Personally, in my work I have never had problems with NGOs,” says Parini. “In fact, some of them were very efficient.”

      Migrant arrivals started to nosedive in February 2017 when, in an attempt to stem the flow, Marco Minniti, the former interior minister from the centre-left Democratic party, struck a deal with the Libyan coastguard that allowed it to return migrants and refugees to a country where aid agencies say they suffer torture and abuse. “I have no knowledge of what is going on in Libya,” says Parini. “But given what I’ve been told by the thousands of migrants that I’ve questioned, it must be hell. Injuries and signs of torture on their bodies are proof. Many women were raped in Libya, and those who gave birth in Sicily abandoned their children because they were the result of physical violence, a violence that they wanted to forget for ever.”

      Amnesty International estimates that about 20,000 people were intercepted by the coastguard in 2017 and taken back to Libya.

      This June a new government took power in Rome in the form of an alliance between the populist Five Star Movement and the rightwing League. The new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, is noted for his anti-immigrant policies and his first move was to close Italy’s ports to the rescue boats. Parini prefers not to comment on Salvini’s tactics, and perhaps his silence speaks louder than words.

      Today NGO rescue boats have almost disappeared from the central Mediterranean. People seeking asylum are still risking the crossing but, without the rescue boats, shipwrecks are likely to rise dramatically. The death toll has fallen in the past year, but the number of those drowning as a proportion of arrivals has risen sharply in the past few months, with the possibility of dying during the crossing now three times higher.

      Parini left his office in mid-December. After heading one of the most important taskforces charged with fighting illegal immigration in Italy, he is now working for the customs bureau. The history of the migrant crisis, now stored in a basement in Syracuse, will also be indelibly lodged in the memory of this man: a man who will never forget the 167 bodies he was forced to look in the face.

      “I will take those faces to my grave, and maybe even beyond,” says Parini.