• 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.

    https://www.borderline-europe.de/unsere-arbeit/lesbos-mohamad-h-zu-146-jahren-haft-verurteilt?l=en
    #passeurs #asile #migrations #réfugiés #frontières #Grèce #criminalisation #justice (well...) #Lesbos #Mer_Egée #absurdité #cynisme #scafista #scafisti #procès

  • 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.”

    https://theintercept.com/2021/04/30/italy-anti-mafia-migrant-rescue-smuggling

    #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".


    https://www.globalist.it/news/2019/01/22/salvini-avverte-i-migranti-piu-partite-piu-morirete-noi-non-apriamo-i-port

    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


    https://www.letemps.ch/monde/italie-migrants-arretes-chaine-tenu-barre

    #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.

    https://russellinsahel.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/le-parole-sono-importanti-perche-prendercela-con-gli-scafi

    #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”.

      https://www.internazionale.it/video/2018/04/11/scafisti-per-forza

      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»
      #état_de_nécessité

      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.