A court case against migrant activists in Italy offers a reminder – not all refugees are welcome in Europe

Like many European countries welcome Ukrainians on the run from war, the latest allegations against a migrant advocate in Rome are a reminder that it is popular against migration remains throughout Europe.

Andrea Costa, President of the Rome-based Non-Profit Migration Organization Baobab experiencewhere recently acquitted on accusations of facilitating illegal migration – a form of migrant smuggling.

Costa and two Baobab Experience volunteers were sentenced to up to 18 years in prison after buying bus tickets for African migrants trying to travel from Rome to Genoa in 2016.

An Italian judge dropped the charges against Costa and his staff on May 9, 2022, since “The crime was non-existent. ”

Migrant activists celebrate the recent court ruling as a victory for groups such as the Baobab, which offers help to people in transit trying to find safety in Europe. But as a researcher on migration and asylum in the Mediterranean in Europe, I think it is important to keep in mind that the smuggling accusation still sends a message that authorities in Italy – and throughout Europe – regard the provision of humanitarian aid as potentially criminal.

Andrea Costa, head of the migration law group Baobab Experience, protests with migrants in Rome in August 2017.
Andrea Ronchini / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Migrant homelessness

More than 1 million migrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2015 and fled violence and political and economic instability in Africa and the Middle East in hopes of finding refuge in Europe.

Since 2015, migrants have continued to travel to Europe from other unstable regions, with Ukraine as the latest – and largest – relocation in Europe since World War II.

The increase in arrivals in 2015 became known globally as Europe’s “refugee crisis. ” The large influx of people tested the EU countries’ migration and refugee policies, and racist, anti-immigrant sentiments grew throughout Europe.

The countries of the European Union as well reduced rescue effortsleaves thousands of migrants to drown to seas.

While, immigrant homelessness increased throughout Europe.

In Italy, some migrants chose to live on the streets instead of staying overcrowded receptionssome of which had connection to organized crime.

European Union policy mandate for migrants to register their asylum applications in the country where they first enter the region. For many, their first stop was Italy, where migrants live reception centers while the authorities process their claims. At these centers, migrants receive meals and basic assistance, but they have limited opportunities to work or be socially integrated while waiting for their errands. The asylum process is slow and migrants can stop living in reception centers for two years waiting to hear if they can get legal protection and stay in Europe.

In 2016, the health organization Doctors Without Borders documented at least 10,000 migrants living in informal settlements throughout Italy.

The case in question

Through my research on migrant camp and Italian migrant reception centersI have observed how local non-profit organizations play an important role in meeting the basic needs of migrants when national and local authorities fail to do so.

In 2016, Baobab Experience ran a unofficial camp on a street called Via Cupa in Rome, where homeless migrants could live in tents, and where volunteers provided them with free meals, medical care and legal aid.

In October 2016, the police closed the camp and left residents without protection. Rome’s reception centers were already overcrowded. Nine Chadian and Sudanese migrants who had lived in Via Cupa decided to travel to one Red Cross migrant camp in Ventimiglia, along the French border.

Costa and two other volunteers bought these migrants’ bus tickets to Genoa in October 2016. A volunteer accompanied them there and then further west to the camp in Ventimiglia.

Italy’s Anti-Mafia Directorate, a national investigative body that fights organized crime and has handled cases related to human trafficking with immigration since 2013, claimed that the ticket purchase constituted migrant smuggling. Rome prosecutor charged Costa and his colleagues in contributing to illegal immigration.

The aid workers did not earn anything from the exchange, nor did they transport anyone across an international border. But under Italian lawinvestigators do not have to prove that someone profited from migrants to accuse them of smuggling.

Criminal aid in Europe

In recent years, local and national authorities in France and Italy and Malta has prosecuted groups providing humanitarian aid to migrants.

Since 2017, for example, some non-profit rescue ship crews have refused to sign recommended by the Italian Government code of conduct allow armed police to board their ships have been faced accusations of having worked with human traffickers.

This political change has created a culture of insecurity, where humanitarian aid comes with legal risks. Other cases also point to this trend.

In Greece, for example, the Irish citizen Seán Binder and the Syrian refugee Sara Mardini faces a wide range of charges, including money laundering, espionage and human traffickingfor their work in helping migrants with the Greek search and rescue organization Emergency Response Center International.

Two men wearing life jackets and masks are sitting with small children in a motorboat at sea.
Children were among the stranded migrants rescued by a search-and-rescue boat in French waters on May 9, 2022.
Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP via Getty Images

A moment in European politics

The acquittal of Baobab Experience President and volunteers comes at a time when it has revealed conflicting ideas about who deserves refuge in Europe.

In early April, Costa and a group of volunteers from Moldova returned to Italy, taking with them several people fleeing Ukraine. “We crossed five international borders … to the applause of the authorities,” Costa said on April 14 press conference.

A few weeks later, Costa’s purchase of a bus ticket in 2016 for migrants from the Sahel region of Africa risked ending up in prison, as the case had just reached a judge in May 2022.

Some migration assistance groups are trying to highlight this discrepancy and hold national authorities accountable for policies that they say lead to the death of migrants.

Italian right-wing politician Matteo Salvini, for example, is facing federal charges of kidnapping in Palermo for his try to close ports to save ships 2019. The allegations claim that Salvini’s “closed ports” policy prevented the Open Arms vessel from bringing rescued migrants to safety, and essentially held them hostage at sea. Several migrations groups act as civil parties in goal against Salvini. In Italy, civilian groups can sign a criminal case to support legal action.

Costa’s case now joins other new cases in Europe involving rescue and humanitarian groups and which have also led to i lost costs.

In France, Cédric Herrou, a farmer accused of smuggling after driving migrants across the border from Italy, was arrested. acquitted of errors during 2018.

Italy prosecuted German citizen Carola Rackete, captain of the rescue ship Sea Watch, but eventually released them. Rackete was arrested in 2019 after she went into Italian waters without permission to land 40 rescued migrants in the port of Catania.

Cases like these give hope to migrants’ rights and aid groups. But the accusations still send a broader political message that not all help is welcome.

Migrants themselves confronts extreme sentences allegations of smuggling. Rescue workers also meet similar allegations – which means that European groups that help migrants continue to operate in uncertainty as to whether they will be able to continue their work.

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