Rescue efforts as well as crossings continue despite crackdown on civil rescue ships. Rescue organisation, Mediterranea, is facing a smear campaign as Humanity 1 rescue ship is detained and fined. El Hiblu 3 to face terrorism charges as Attorney General issues bill of indictment.

2511 have been reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean route, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) while a total of 7000 died or went missing since 2014. Despite the increase in deaths along the Mediterranean, people continue to risk their lives. On 30 November, Geo Barents operating by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) rescued 44 people from two separate fiberglass boats in coordination with the Italian coastguard. According to the organisation, there were four children, four women and several unaccompanied minors among the survivors and all of them were disembarked in Taranto. On the same day, SOS Humanity rescued 90 people including 30 unaccompanied minors, several women, and a baby from an overcrowded, unseaworthy rubber boat in international waters off the coast of Libya, following a distress call from Alarm Phone. Following this rescue operation, the organisation witnessed a pullback of around 35 people by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and rescued 46 people from the water who had gone overboard without life jackets in the chaos of the pullback. Later, the ship Humanity1 conducted two other rescue operations off the Libyan Search and Rescue Zone and saved the lives of 46 people.  On 1 December, the hotline Alarm Phone reported about 30 people in distress. “We are happy to confirm that the Italian Coastguard found the 32 people in distress and brought them to Lampedusa”, the hotline wrote later on platform X. The organisation also reported about 42 people in distress near Malta who were finally rescued by a merchant vessel. On 2 December, Alarm Phone communicated about 52 people in distress in international waters near Libya who were later intercepted by the so-called Libyan coast guard. On 3 December, the hotline reported about “20 people in distress somewhere between Tripoli, Lebanon and Cyprus”. “We are relieved to learn from family members of this group that they arrived in Cyprus”, the organisation added on 4 December. On 7 December, Alarm Phone reported about 47 people in distress in Search and Rescue zone of Malta, underlining “The group says they cannot move on and is struggling with high waves and strong winds. There are no life jackets. The people are desparately asking for help!”. The people are struggling “amid high waves on an iron boat that could sink any second”, Sea-Watch International wrote on X, adding that “A nearby merchant ship provided shelter & Compass Collective is currently on the scene,  battling worsening weather conditions to distribute life jackets”. The organization later on the day reported about “another overcrowded boat today, with 25 people alone in the middle of the ocean with no rescue asset in sight”. “We hold hope for their lives, but our faith in European authorities is nonexistent”, Sea-Watch International underlined.

Crackdown on civil rescue ships persists. Two right-wing newspapers, Panorama and La Verità, have been attacking Mediterranea Saving Humans headed by a longtime leftist activist, Luca Casarini, for having received financial support from some bishops and members of the Catholic Church. According to the report released by the media outlets, from 2021 to 2023, Mediterranea received more than $2 million in financial support from those church sources. Don Mattia Ferrari, chaplain of Mediterranea said in an interview responding to these allegations “The Catholic Church’s financial support for organizations that help migrants is nothing new. Even in other European countries the Christian Churches, both Catholic and Protestant, do this. The Church is present everywhere, on land and at sea, alongside those who suffer”, adding that the organisation receives support from various stakeholders, religious and secular. Casarini also insisted there is no shame in taking money from the church. “Why should we hide it? We’ve written thank-you notes to dioceses, parishes and scout troops. This is the church we like, which supports concrete efforts. I say this as a convert: This is the Gospel. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ applies, above all, at sea”, he said. MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans stated in a press release that the organization’s lawyer filed a complaint over the defamation campaign launched by some media outlets. The press release also added: “The article, the cover, every written word, has a single objective: to discredit the people and movements that support their struggles, to intimidate, to send a mafia-style message: we will hit you, you and all those who dare to support you” (translated). “The technique is always the same: sentences extrapolated from wiretaps were taken and artfully reassembled, in order to build the “monster” and be able to splash it on the front page. Lies and falsehoods were written, as we will obviously demonstrate before a judge. People very dear to us were brought up, such as Pope Francis, who has never abandoned us in these years in which we dared to disobey the hatred and indifference towards our brothers and sisters who die by the thousands in the financed Libyan concentration camps from Italy, or at sea due to the deliberate failure to help, in this new and atrocious war against humanity”, the organisation stated, underlining “They will continue to hate, we will continue to love”. As part of a separate investigation, Casarini and other five members connected to Mediterranea have been put under investigation for “facilitating illegal migration” in relation to the rescue provided to the 27 shipwrecked people abandoned in desperate conditions for 38 days on board the Maersk Etienne oil tanker on 11 September, and the preliminary hearing in the trial of this case has been postponed to 14 February.

On 4 December, the rescue ship Humanity 1 was detained in Crotone, southern Italy, after disembarking 200 people rescued from distress at sea based on several “shameless lies by the authorities”. The detention was imposed on the ship following the rescue operation of 46 people from drowning who were already in the water as a result of a pullback by a patrol boat by the so-called Libyan coastguard. The statement provided by the Italian authorities is based on a report from the Libyan authorities who accuse Humanity 1 of ignoring instructions of the Libyan coastguard and being responsible for people trying to flee from the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and jumping into the water. The ship crew denied the accusation providing documentation of events and expressed how “appalled” by the “shameless lies of the authorities and the resulting consequences of a 20-day detention of the Humanity 1 and a fine of 3,333 euros”. Meanwhile, Germany is proposing legal amendments to make saving persons from drowning in the Mediterranean and transporting them to the shore a criminal act, punishable by a maximum imprisonment period of ten years. 50 organisations including Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and other sea rescue organisations expressed their “concern” over this move warning that the planned change to the law could “blur the distinction between profit-driven smuggling activities and humanitarian assistance”. Meanwhile, an Italian court affirmed the legitimacy of the public administration’s decision to deny the Emergency NGO access to documents related to the procedures for allocating the Ortona and Livorno ports to the Life Support vessel for the disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea on 25 March and 29 April despite requesting a closer port. The court argues that authorities can decide to select a port far from the point of rescue without providing any justification for this choice highlighting that the disclosure of such confidential information “may harm national security, defense, sovereignty, and international relations’ continuity and fairness”.

The Attorney General of Malta decided that the three young men Abdallah, Amara and Kader, known as El Hiblu 3, will go to trial to face terrorism charges. If found guilty, the three young men will face life sentences. Lawyers representing the migrants told Times of Malta that they have petitioned the criminal court to throw out the case, adding that “the way prosecutors are interpreting certain criminal charges is stretched to the point of nullifying them, and that given that no evidence was presented to show that any crime was committed on Maltese territory, the case should be dismissed”. El Hiblu 3 Coalition in a press release stated that they are “convinced that El Hiblu 3 did the right thing: they helped diffuse a tense situation at sea and helped prevent an illegal pushback to Libya”, adding that the three young men are “heroes, not criminals”. Rule of law NGO Repubblika said Malta is seeking to make a harsh example of the three to collectively condemn all those guilty of trying to seek a better life for themselves. Amnesty International called the decision “a travesty of justice” and Elisa De Pieri, the group’s regional researcher, said “the Attorney General has taken more than four-and-a-half years to make the worst possible decision”. Meanwhile, Malta’s “double standards” are revealed as it welcomes foreign workers to fill labour shortage but pushes back asylum seekers and refugees. Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who in a June 2014 speech said he aimed to turn Malta into the “next Dubai”, explaining that “Being at the crossroads in the Mediterranean and the centre of the busiest shipping route in the world, our geography has always made us attractive to migrants who want to work in our country”. “But in recent years, we’ve faced labour shortages in some sectors like the service and healthcare industry and also have an ageing population. So introducing a system of bringing migrants in such a structured manner to the country was integral”, he added. Daniel Mainwaring, migration researcher from Malta, said Valletta has created “legal pathways” for foreigners who want to work in Malta but, when the government sees thousands of people arriving by sea seeking refuge, “then it is all about reducing overall migrant arrivals.” “Contracted migrants are often seen as the good ones, and those that enter the country by sea are considered illegal. What is ironic is that they’re [sometimes] people coming from the same country,” Mainwaring said.

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