A German boat captain who claims to have rescued more than 1,000 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea could face up to 20 years in an Italian jail on charges of aiding illegal immigration.
Pia Klemp, 35, is a member of Sea-Watch, a nongovernmental organization that rescues asylum-seekers in the Mediterranean who are trying to reach Europe by boat.
However, Italian authorities say Klemp colluded with smugglers to collect migrants at various rendezvous points and then stage rescues at sea, according to the New York Post.
Photos taken by undercover officers allegedly show human traffickers “escorting” vessels full of migrants who were then transferred to aid boats.
According to the article:
Human traffickers in Libya are known to be extorting thousands of dollars from migrants who arrive in the country trying to reach Europe.
The ships used to transport them are often not seaworthy or are deliberately sabotaged, forcing humanitarian vessels to stage rescues.
However, Newsweek noted that the charges against Klemp come as Italy’s right-wing Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has promised harsh penalties for migrants who enter the country illegally.
As a result of the crackdown, the Italian government is branding rescue workers like Klemp as criminals.
More than 80,000 supporters of the captain have signed a petition urging Italy to drop the charges and calling Klemp a humanitarian responsible for hundreds of genuine rescues.
Klemp told reporters that the most frustrating aspect of the charges is that she’s having to spend hundreds of thousands of euros on a long “show trial” ― money she says could have been spent on rescue missions.
“But the worst has already come to pass,” she said, according to DW.com. “Sea rescue missions have been criminalized.”
Klemp is not only blaming the Italian government but also the European Union, which she says has failed “to remember its avowed values: human rights, the right to life, to apply for asylum, and the duty of seafarers to rescue those in danger at sea.”
Although some people have claimed rescue missions encourage people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing, Klemp said scientific studies disprove the idea that sea rescues are “a so-called pull factor.”
She added: “The people come because, unfortunately, there are so many reasons to flee.”
Klemp insists all her rescues were in keeping with United Nations’ policy, as well as just the basic responsibilities of any boat captain, according to Heavy.com.
If convicted, Klemp plans to fight the verdict all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.