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When rescue ships were denied the authorization to dock, some public prosecutors who considered it illegal to leave migrants at sea for too long arguably enacted a strategy of seizing ships in order to facilitate the disembarkation of those on board. This was the case for Sea-Watch 3 in May and Open Arms in August , both impounded and released soon thereafter. As of February , almost none of the investigations initiated against NGOs found sufficient incriminating evidence to start a trial.
In fact, five public prosecutors closed their investigations without bringing any formal charges. Humanitarian workers have consistently been seen as operating under a state of necessity dictated by the duty to protect human life and rescue those in distress at sea, two obligations enshrined by international law that prevail over the domestic prohibition of abetting illegal immigration Carrera and Cortinovis In the only investigation that will result in a trial—that against Jugend Rettet —humanitarian workers are suspected of having rescued migrants that were not in a situation of distress.
Consequently, the crime of aiding and abetting illegal immigration could not be immediately waived on the grounds of a state of necessity. Since the start of the Conte II government, the criminalization of non-governmental SAR has eased, but not completely subsided. Indeed, a persisting tendency to question, delegitimize, restrain, and possibly criminalize NGOs is visible both at the European and the Italian level. At the domestic level, as already mentioned, the number of investigations against NGOs has decreased sharply, and new interior minister Lamorgese largely refrained from using the power to deny rescue boats access to Italian territorial waters.
On the other hand, however, the document indirectly reiterated criticism and suspicions against NGOs. In conclusion, while efforts to prosecute and obstruct NGOs decreased between late and early , the broader discursive stigmatization of non-governmental migrant rescue did not completely subside. While all court decisions so far have dismissed all charges of collusion with smugglers as well as of aiding and abetting illegal immigration, NGOs have continued to be accused of serving as a pull factor of migration by media, politicians, and official documents.
The article will now turn to assess these accusations. According to both Frontex and Italian law enforcement authorities, however, NGOs may still indirectly facilitate irregular migration and thereby contribute to increasing casualties at sea by serving as a pull factor of irregular migration.
This seemingly plausible suspicion has served as the cornerstone of the discourses stigmatizing non-governmental maritime rescue and played a key role in enabling the policy restrictions and criminal investigations mentioned in the previous section. In this section, we show that these claims are largely unfounded. In order to do so, we rely on datasets focusing on irregular migrant departures from Libya and the outcome of their journey i.
Our datasets are either monthly for the period January —December or daily between 1 January and 15 January This alleged failure to reduce fatalities among migrants is mainly because rescue missions have allegedly encouraged smugglers to rely on increasingly unseaworthy boats Deiana, Maheshri and Mastrobuoni By operating too close to Libyan coasts, NGO ships have been held responsible for this deterioration in the quality of migrant boats Frontex , Robinson While there is some evidence that migrants departing from Libya have used increasingly unseaworthy vessels, this deterioration occurred very early in the period of high departures — , probably as early as mid Arguably, this activity has incentivized the resort to dinghies, thereby indirectly increasing the deadliness of the crossing Heller and Pezzani , House of Lords The risk did not increase even after the first sudden drop in migrant departures after mid-July Share of dead and missing migrants out of total departures from Libya January —February The period between June and August , however, shows that the presence of non-governmental SAR assets does appear to play an important role in decreasing the deadliness of the crossings.
When most NGOs had suspended or reduced their operations due to the abovementioned criminalization process, the risk of crossing more than tripled relative to previous years, peaking at 6. As Fig. However, the small sample available warrants further verification of these findings. Overall, existing evidence shows that the presence of NGOs at sea, while unable to eliminate the risk of crossings, plays a key role in preventing casualties at sea from escalating irrespective of weather conditions.
Even if NGOs reduced the relative risk of death attached to irregular crossings, they may have still indirectly contributed to increasing the total number of casualties by encouraging more migrants to make the journey to Europe. In order to test this accusation, we extend the dataset on daily irregular crossings from Libya used in a previous paper Cusumano and Villa until February In order to account for uncertainty over the actual day of departure from Libya migrants sometimes depart several days before being rescued , we use a 3-day moving average for all our variables.
Table 3 shows the results. We find that the only factors with a strongly significant statistical effect on the number of irregular departures from Libya are weather conditions and the level of political stability in the country, which we calculate by using daily oil production as a proxy. To be sure, more research remains needed on this subject. However, our evidence suggests that even if the alleged pull effect of maritime rescue operations enjoys widespread currency and has served a key role in delegitimizing NGOs, this argument is not supported by existing data.
The suspicion that NGOs facilitate irregular migration or even directly colluded with human smugglers has shifted European decision-makers and public opinion against non-governmental SAR operations. These allegations have caused sea rescue NGOs to face policy restrictions, judicial criminalization, and broader social delegitimization. This article has sought to contribute to the scholarship on the criminalization of humanitarianism by conducting two interrelated tasks.
First, we have thoroughly examined the origins of existing critiques to non-governmental SAR and their escalation into judicial indictments and policy restrictions. Second, we have appraised the merits of the arguments formulated against NGOs by using available evidence.
As all court investigations to date have disproven the existence of a direct collusion between NGOs and human smugglers, we have chosen to examine the two main indirect, empirically verifiable accusations that have enabled this delegitimization process: the allegation that NGOs have not reduced and may have even increased casualties off the coast of Libya and the suspicion that non-governmental sea rescue has served as a pull factor of irregular migration.
While additional research is still needed, the quantitative evidence we collected questions both arguments. Non-governmental SAR missions appear to have played an important although not decisive role in reducing the deadliness of sea crossings without significantly contributing to incentivizing irregular migration.
Our findings have important policy implications. Most notably, evidence showing that SAR operations do not incentivize irregular departures as often assumed may prompt European governments to reconsider their approach to non-governmental SAR operations in the Mediterranean. As military and law enforcement assets are even more unlikely than NGOs to incentivize irregular crossings, decision-makers should consider gradually restoring operations combining SAR and border control tasks.
Although this article has advanced the existing debate on the delegitimization and criminalization of humanitarianism and solidarity, the subject still warrants follow-up research from lawyers and social scientists alike. Most notably, legal scholars can more systematically examine the decisions to prosecute and acquit humanitarian workers briefly presented above, using Italian case law as a window into the tension between the obligations arising from international human rights law as well as the law of the sea and domestic legal provisions against aiding and abetting illegal immigration.
Atak, I. The Criminalization of Migration. Montreal: McGill. Navigare a Vista. Basaran, T. The saved and the drowned: governing indifference in the name of security. Security Dialogue, 46 3 , — Bewarder M. Brincat, Edwina. Camilli, A. Carrera, S. The Malta declaration on SAR and renovation: a predictable solidarity mechanism.
Policing Humanitarianism. Oxford: Hart. Cusumano, E. Straightjacketing migrant rescuers? The code of conduct on maritime NGOs. Mediterranean Politics, 24 1 , — Migrant rescue as organized hypocrisy: EU maritime missions offshore Libya between humanitarianism and border control.
Cooperation and Conflict, 54 1 , 3— Contemporary Security Policy. Sea rescue NGOs: a pull factor of irregular migration? Migration Policy Centre, Cuttitta, Paolo. Cuttitta, P. Repoliticization Through Search and Rescue? Geopolitics, 23 3 , Search and rescue at sea, non-governmental organisations and the principles of the EUs external action.
Florence: European University Institute. Migration at sea: unintended consequences of search and rescue operations. Del Valle, H. Lessons Not Learnt. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Google Scholar. European Parliament. Answer given by Mr. Avramopoulos on behalf of the Commission. Accessed 20 Jul Fekete, L. Migrants, borders and the criminalisation of solidarity in the EU. Race and Class, 59 4.
Financial Times Correction: Charities in the Mediterranean. Risk Analysis , Heller, Charles and Pezzani Lorenzo. Blaming the Rescuers. Criminalizing solidarity, reinforcing deterrence. Forensic Architecture Agency. Goldsmith University. House of Lords. International Organization for Migration. Missing migrants project Mediterranean update. Accessed 18 February Huffington Post. Quando Luigi Di Maio disse che le Ong sono taxi del mare. Huffington Post , 30 January La Stampa. Abbiamo le prove dei contatti tra scafisti e alcuni soccorritori.
La Stampa, 20 June Mezzadra, S. Abolitionist vistas of the human. Border struggles, migration and freedom of movement. Citizenship Studies, 24 4 , — Micalessin, G. Ministerial Directive. In 18 March In 4 April In 15 April In 15 May Codice di condotta per le Ong impegnate nelle operazioni di salvataggio dei migranti in mare. In 7 August Moreno-Lax Violeta. Journal of Common Market Studies 56 1 : — The success of the programme, lauded by many as a model of integration, led to Mayor Lucano being named one of the world's 50 greatest leaders by Fortune magazine in At the start of October, he was arrested by Italy's financial police as part of an investigation into allegedly facilitating illegal migration.
Solidarity and humanity, perhaps? The first charge detailed by prosecutors involved the arrangement of marriages of convenience to get around immigration regulations. Prosecutors said they had wiretapped Mr Lucano's phone and recorded at least one exchange in which the mayor appeared to suggest marriage as a solution to a woman's immigration problems, in a way they said could not be misunderstood.
One excerpt concerned a Nigerian migrant who had been denied residence three times, the statement said. Mr Lucano is reported to have said that marrying an Italian citizen was "the only way forward". In the excerpts he was said to refer to a similar wedding in the past, and his ability to arrange a ceremony quickly.
He was also quoted offering to acquire an ID card to say the woman was a resident of Riace. Prosecutors said he was also charged with allocating rubbish collection services to two companies without going through the required public tender process.
That charge may also have had a connection to the town's migrant programme. The two companies were community co-operatives established "to provide work for the people of Riace and migrants", according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica. His partner Tesfahun Lemlem had faced the same charges but was not banned from living in the area. The investigation had originally explored alleged mismanagement of public funds provided by the interior ministry.
Prosecutors said that while the management of funds may have been disorderly, there was no evidence that any amount had been misappropriated. Italy's populist government came to power in June with the head of the right-wing League party, Matteo Salvini, taking the role of interior minister. He has since pursued a series of anti-migration policies. Mr Salvini reacted on Twitter at the time by wondering what "all the good guys who want to fill Italy with immigrants" would say about the story.
He singled out Roberto Saviano, a vocal critic of Mr Salvini and a supporter of Riace's migration programme. Writing on Facebook about the arrest, Mr Saviano said the government was "taking the first step towards the definitive transformation of Italy from a democracy to an authoritarian state". The Italian village revived by migrants. Italy government backs 'anti-migrant' bill.
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